This page is a work in progress: last edited in April 2020
My name is Alan Smith. This is the story of a group of ordinary small-business people fighting one of the largest companies in the country. The story of how for years Telstra (in the earlier days called Telecom) refused to address the many phone problems that were affecting the capacity of the COT Four to run their businesses, telling them ‘No fault found.’
Until the late 1990s, the Australian government fully owned Telecom, Australia’s telephone network and the communications carrier (today privatised and called Telstra). Telecom held the monopoly on communications and let the network deteriorate into disrepair. When a small group of business owners had severe communication problems, they were forced into arbitration with Telstra, in order to have their ongoing telephone service problems fixed.
All of the main events as quoted on this website are supported by copies of the original documents (confirmation data) which are linked in the text: for example, FrontPage Part One File No/1, Main Evidence File No/3 or Prologue Evidence File 1-A to 1-C. Clicking on these links with your cursor will automatically open a PDF of the exhibit. By using this method and following the various file nos discussed in our various pages (see menu bar above i.e. Absent justice summary of events) you will be able to verify our story. Without those documents, most people would really struggle to believe that the Casualties of Telstra (COT for short) claimants have actually lived through these appalling events.
It is important that we first jump forward three years after the COT cases signed their arbitration and mediation agreements during mid -1994, to show that, in June and September 1997, the Senate was being advised of just how undemocratically those COT arbitrations and mediation processes had been conducted. Yet, only five of the 21 COT arbitration and mediation processes were ever investigated by the Senate, see An injustice to the remaining 16 Australian citizens. By highlighting this fact, at the beginning of our story, we hope this will entice you to continue reading and find out why 16 Australian citizens were discriminated against by their own government in such an appalling manner.
Starting on page 5163, this link > SENATE official Hansard – Parliament of Australia, shows Telstra employees rorted millions upon millions of dollars from Telstra shareholders: i.e., the government and Australian citizens, who then owned Telstra. The pressure Senators Alston and Boswell applied, for a Senate investigation into the Casualties of Telstra (COT cases) phone fiascos, was one of the reasons Telstra agreed to settle the COT cases’ issues in a proposed Fast Track Settlement Proposal signed by Telstra and the first four claimants Ann Garms, Maureen Gillan, Graham Schorer and me in the third week of November 1993. Telstra, it seemed, could not afford a further investigation into its operation: NSW was not the only state where this rorting, was taking place. Many people made threats against the COT cases because our persistence, in order to gain fully functional phone systems, was about to expose other unethical behaviour at Telstra, including at management level. The fact that both the Telstra CEO and board knew millions upon millions of dollars (again, see 5163 of SENATE official Hansard) were being unlawfully syphoned from the government coffers is unbelievable. In fact, figures running into the billions have also been quoted.
Perhaps even more unbelievable is that the COT cases received no recognition, from either the government, for our stand for honesty and truth; instead, we have been treated in the worst possible way, labelled as vexatious litigants and our lives have been ruined, simply because we believed that what we were doing would eventually benefit all Australians.
In my case local Portland as well as Melbourne Telstra techncians were prepared to knowingly lie under oath concerning the network being supplied to not just me but also other Portland and South West Victorian residents. Proof that lies were told to the arbitrator and various government ministers concerning the Telstra network being supplied to South West Vistoria including Ballarat can be varified by viewing a secretly prepared government finding contained in a report on the Portland and Cape Bridgewater Telstra network (AUSTEL’s Adverse Findings).
By comparing these AUSTEL government findings with the various statemnts made under oath by the local Portland and Ballarat based Telstra techncians who I have named as Jokers One to Jokers Seven in our Summary of events absentjustice page. The reader will be able to work out for themselves that the statements made by these lies under oath Jokers do not coincide with their own government (AUSTEL) findings.
Worse than this is that no one has rectified these false statements that tainted the whole arbitration process. Then came the lies and deception commited by Telstra senior management when they used the ‘COT strategy‘ prepared by their arbitration lawyers (see below) that totally denied the COT claimants any sort of justice (see Senator Ron Boswell’s statement comcerning these injustices Senate Hansard Evidence File No-1).
The following ‘COT strategy’ has also been discussed in Blowing the whistle page, it is raised again here because the Australian Government (as endorsees of our arbitrations) should have abandoned the process as son as the Government Communications Regulator, AUSTEL (now ACMA), discovered that Freehill Hollingdale & Page, who had been appointed by Telstra as their main arbitration defence lawyers, were still involved in our arbitrations. After all, AUSTEL/ACMA knew that Freehills had put that COT strategy together for Telstra (see page 5169 SENATE official Hansard) and so they (AUSTEL/ACMA) and had already assured both the members of COT and numerous Senators that Freehills would not be used in any way in connection with our arbitrations (see point 40 in the following Prologue Evidence File No/2). So why didn’t the Government immediately insist that this legal firm, one that had already caused so much heartache and grief for the COT Cases, could not be used again as the whip to ensure the COT Cases did not win their cases (See also pages 36 and 38 Senate – Parliament of Australia?
The author of this COT strategy is the same lawyer Denise McBurnie, with whom I was forced to register each of my phone complaints, in writing, before Telstra would address these problems seeabove. NONE of the fault information I provided to this lawyer, concerning ongoing telephone problems and Telstra’s response to those problems, were ever released to me during my arbitration.
To add further insult to these injustices, on 12 September 1994, as part of the arbitration process, I was obliged to meet with Telstra’s consulting forensic psychologist in Portland’s Richmond Hotel so he could analyse my mental health as part of Telstra’s defence of the arbitration process. One of the most important issues I raised with him was the trauma I suffered at the hands of the legal firm that hired him. He appeared to listen carefully to what I described and he said being directed to register phone complaints, in writing, with Telstra’s lawyer, before they would be investigated, was most disturbing. I provided confirmation that losing six incoming calls in a single day was common. Writing to a lawyer, explaining lost calls, was more than just soul destroying, it just about broke my will power to carry on. He said he was shocked Telstra and its legal firm forced this on me and agreed this would certainly affect my mental state over the many months I had to do this.
However, when Telstra’s lawyers, which the government assured us would not be used in our arbitrations provided this clinical psychologist’s witness statement to the arbitrator, it was only signed by a lawyer from this legal firm. It bore no signature of the psychologist and didn’t contain his concerns regarding me having to first contact this legal firm, in writing, before Telstra would address my telephone problems. Was this witness statement altered by a third party before it reached the arbitration process?
On 24 June 1997, the day before the Senate Estimates Committee exposed the COT strategy ex-Telstra employee turned whistleblower, Lindsay White, had advised the same Senate estimates committee that, while he was assessing the relevance of the technical information requested by the COT claimants, two Telstra officials gave him instructions at the COT briefing (See page 36 Front Page Part One File No/6).
Senator O’Chee “And what were you told in that introduction briefing about the group’s roll”?
Mr White: “In the first induction – and I was one of the early ones, and probably the earliest in the Freehill’s [Telstra’s Lawyers] area – there were five complainants. They were Garms, Gill and Smith [me], and Dawson and Schorer. My induction briefing was that we – we being Telecom – had to stop these people to stop the floodgates being opened.”
Senator O’Chee: “What, stop them reasonably or stop them at all costs –or what?”
Mr White: “The words used to me in the early days were that we had to stop these people at all costs.” (See also pages 36 and 38 of Senate – Parliament of Australia
Four of the five COT Cases who Lindsay White advised the Senate Committee he was told; had to be stopped at all cost from proving their claims were Ann Garms, Maureen Gillan, Graham Schorer and me. These were the same four names that appear on the COT strategy (see Prologue Evidence File 1-A to 1-C)
In other words, Telstra and its lawyers were allowed to single out four fellow Australian citizens from the then-population of 18 million and determined that, even if we four COT cases spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in arbitration fees (which we did), we would never win our arbitration claims.
Enter the Hackers
While we are not trying to glorify Julian Assange here on our front=page or in our Hacking Julian Assange link as an Australian national hero to the free world. It is, however, most important to note it appears that Assange and his friends played a very important part, hacking and exposing the truth concerning Telstra and its lawyers’ unethical conduct towards the COT cases, early in our arbitrations. These youths fit the profile of Julian Assange and the hackers mentioned in a number of editorials. If it was not Julian Assange and friends who contacted COT spokesperson Graham Schorer (see Graham’s statutory declaration Hacking – Julian Assange File No/3), then someone else in Melbourne Australia must have decided to expose what they uncovered concerning Telstra and its lawyers unlawful conduct towards us COT cases during our government endorsed arbitrations. It is important we raise this issue because of the serious nature of what these hackers saw as an injustice against fellow Australian citizens.
These hackers agreed to provide Graham with evidence from hacked Telstra data that clearly showed we were destined to lose our cases. The COT strategy (see Prologue Evidence File 1-A to 1-C) is possibly one of the documents the hackers offered to send us.
After contacting me to discuss this offer, Graham Schorer and I decided not to accept this information. We were of the belief that accepting damning evidence outside the due process of discovery and/or FOI could be seen as acting unlawfully.
It is now apparent from two publications – one titled The Most Dangerous Man In The World by renowned investigative journalist Andrew Fowler and the other by Dr Suelette Dreyfus, titled Underground – that it was Julian Assange and his companions who contacted Graham.
In hindsight, had we COT cases accepted the internal Telstra emails and faxes the hackers offered, we would have won our arbitrations back in 1994. At the time, however, we suspected this contact from the hackers were either a Telstra trick or a trick by the government to catch us red-handed with ill-gotten documents, which would have ended our arbitrations. The hackers kept telling Graham that those actually conducting the arbitrations were involved in a giant conspiracy to defraud the COT’s a proper assessment process.
The injustices continue
The three following links Australian Federal Police Investigations and Open Letter File No/12, and File No/13), show quite clearly that COT cases’ arbitration related faxes were intercepted (hacked) prior and during their arbitrations. So, with that firmly in mind, first try to imagine the people assigned to intercept the many COT arbitration documents, as they left each of our individual premises, heading to the arbitrator, our financial advisors or our technical advisers. Try to imagine what it might have been like for those people, studiously chasing up and illegally intercepting our legal documents as they travelled around the fax circuit. Try to imagine doing this every single day because, particularly at the peak of our arbitrations between January 1994 and 1999, most of the COTs were constantly using Telstra’s fax system to send documents all over the place! Then, change tack a bit, and try to imagine you are one of us, a member of the COT group, just an ordinary Australian citizen, running an ordinary Australian small business: an ordinary person who trusts the government to do the right thing by ALL Australian citizens. And, so, while you work at keeping your small business afloat, you also write up submissions, prepare legal documents (something you have never done before) and work hard to learn your way around complex technical documents, sometimes with an advisor at your side, but mostly alone.
Try to imagine what it would be like if, after all that effort, even before your documents reached their intended destinations, the defendant hijacks them as part of its reprehensible plot, so it could secretly assess the value of your claim, before the arbitrator and your advisors saw the relevance of those faxed documents. This enabled the defendant the critical advantage of knowing, in advance, what was to come in the next part of the arbitration process. This gave a huge benefit to the defendant because, of course, that gave them time to decide which aspect of the claim would be easy to defend and which would be best to completely avoid. Try to imagine what that would have felt like for the claimants. You also need to remember, as we record elsewhere on absentjustice.com, that some of those documents, which we sent off, through what should have been a secure fax system, never arrived at their intended destination at all.
I know this seems too fanciful to be true but I am not Robert Ludlum or John Grisham spinning a story here, not even vaguely, because all this really did happen here in Australia, a supposedly democratic country, not all that long ago – in the years between 1994 and 1999, as Open Letter File No/12, to File No/20 shows. In fact, our evidence shows that this fax hacking started at the very beginning of 1994, in January, before we signed our arbitration agreements. So, as you read on, imagine you are sitting at your desk in your office, just like the COT members often did. You’ve been up most of the night, working on your claim, and your privacy and fax system (which everyone used back then) are both about to be violated, yet again, by the defendant, without your knowledge or consent, and the government you pay your taxes to is NOT willing to investigate or assist you, as your business vanishes before your eyes. Wouldn’t you want to know why this was allowed to happen when all you asked for was a decent, properly working telephone system so you could operate your telephone dependent business.
How, when the COT Four presented their dispute to the government, they were manipulated, pressured and squeezed into an unfair and costly arbitration.
How Telstra and its legal defence team perverted the course of justice in the arbitration process by such dubious strategies as intercepting faxes and conversations (bugging), failing to deliver crucial FOI documents (or delivering them months and even years too late, often so highly censored that little intelligible remained), even destroying documentary evidence and fabricating evidence.
How central points in my claim at arbitration were ignored by the arbitrator and how no amount of effort to have these points addressed bore any fruit.
How, in the course of all these travesties, the regulatory bodies — Austel (for the government) and the TIO (for the carriers) — failed to exercise any control over Telstra to the point where they could reasonably be seen as acting in concert.
Together, these travesties spell a break-down of justice, way out of proportion to the problem we began with — people asking that their phone services be guaranteed to work to a reasonable standard, so that they can reliably conduct their businesses.
And why did it seem everyone was protecting Telstra, turning a blind eye to what was unlawful behaviour? Withholding important discovery documents in an arbitration procedure is unlawful. Tampering with evidence in an arbitration is unlawful. Relying on defence documents which are known to be flawed, in an arbitration, is unlawful. Phone tapping of conversations without a warrant is unlawful. Someone within Telstra must have authorised this criminal conduct. The TIO, and Austel often enough, refused to act; Members of Parliament when in Opposition were happy to provide support for the COT cause, but as soon as government was theirs, that support vanished. No-one was prepared to make Telstra accountable. It was enough to make the most level-headed person suspect conspiracies.
During the early days of my 1994 arbitration, Telstra’s Paul Rumble rang me about my complaints regarding the slow delivery of FOI documents I needed for preparing my arbitration claim. I had complained to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, who was now leaning on Telstra. But Mr Rumble astounded me when he told me the slowness of delivery was due to Telstra needing to vet the requested documents for any ‘sensitive’ material – because I had passed material on to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) see Transcripts from my interview with the AFP 26th September 1994 (see pages 1 to 12 Australian Federal Police Investigation File No/1 transcripts from my second interview with the AFP, confirmong they were alarmed that Telstra had gathered private information about me including documenting on Telstra data the names of the people who I had telephoned on a daily basis as well as Paul Rumble having threatened me. This CCAS data information and the threats made against me by Mr Rumble was supplied to Warwick Smith (TIO), and the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office.. This was preposterous on at least two counts. Firstly, the slow delivery had been ongoing since my first request for FOI documents in December 1993. Secondly, it was my civic, if not legal, duty to co-operate with any police investigation. It was certainly not a subject that the telecommunication corporation should have any jurisdiction over. I demanded through the arbitrator and under FOI access to Telstra’s Portland/Cape Bridgewater log book of all my registered phone faults. Neither the arbitrator nor Telstra allowed me access to this very important material. Material, that would have shown the arbitrator my phone faults were still ongoing.
As you can see from the above menu bar stories, extra traffic in the system, and the problems this caused for my business, were both ignored during my 1994/95 arbitration because the arbitrator only awarded losses connected to past telephone problems and completely ignored all those serious problems that were still affecting both my business and the businesses of the other COT cases too (see Prologue /Chapters One to Three). In fact, the COT cases’ technical consultants, including the late George Close and his associates, all warned the arbitrator, and Telstra (the defendants in those COT arbitrations), that, unless the Government Communications Regulator forced Telstra to begin the process of restructuring its grossly defective network (see ‘The Briefcase Affair’), then the privatisation of Telstra would need to be seriously reconsidered (see Bad Bureaucrats File No/11 – Part One and File No/11 – Part Two) and that selling off a publicly-owned company (as Telstra was back then) in the condition the network was in at the time would surely be a step backward for the Government and the country as a whole. Regardless of that advice however, Telstra was still sold off.
The Briefcase Affair
In government circles, it is widely accepted the contents of a Telstra briefcase, left inadvertently at my Cape Bridgewater business by a senior Telstra technical guru, prompted the government to further investigate what the COT cases were saying. How better to control what was now seen as a national telecommunications disaster than to initiate an arbitration process with a confidentiality clause attached, which disallowed any disclosure of what the arbitrator and his technical advisors uncovered. The Arbitration process was provided with a government regulatory report stipulating Telstra must be able to prove all faults being experienced during the arbitration by the claimants were fixed before any assessment of the COT Cases were handed down. However, the arbitrator and his arbitration resource unit disregarded this government report and brought down their findings while aware the COT cases were no better off regarding our ongoing telephone faults than when we first signed our arbitration agreements.
All this is even easier to understand when you consider that the injustices committed against the COT Cases were committed against them while the Government still actually owned Telstra, and therefore before it became a public company. The following three points that make the whole situation even worse:
(1) So far, not one of those employees from within the Telstra Corporation has ever been charged, or punished, for any of the crimes committed against us.
(2) In my case, I waited for thirteen years after my arbitration had been officially declared to be over, before the Government would finally release the full report of their own investigations into my claims and that was when I discovered that, six weeks before I was presured to sign my arbitration agreement, the Government investigators had already found my claims to be validated which, of course, meant that for all the thousands upon thousands of dollars (more than two hundred thousand) I spent defending my arbitration claim I was actually defending a claim that the Government Communications Regulator had already proved to be valid (See AUSTEL’s Adverse Findings).
(3) It was not until I finally received my copy of that Government report (which should have been part of the late ‘FOI dump’) that I discovered how my own government i.e. AUSTEL had concealed their true findings concerning my business losses which noted at point 209 in that report:
“Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp has a history of service difficulties dating back to 1988. Although most of the documentation dates from 1991 it is apparent that the camp has had ongoing service difficulties for the past six years which has impacted on its business operations causing losses and erosion of customer base.”
The truth surrounding my ongoing services difficulties was concealed from the arbitrator. Was this concealment connected to Telstra’s threats, made and carried out during my arbitration process, because I assisted the Australian Federal Police when they requested I supply what FOI documents I did finally receive from Telstra under discovery? (See Senate Evidence File No 31) below.
Threats carried out
On 29 November 1994, during my arbitration Senator Ron Boswell asked Telstra’s legal directorate:
“Why did Telecom advise the Commonwealth Ombudsman that Telecom withheld FOI documents from Alan Smith because Alan Smith provided Telecom FOI documents to the Australian Federal Police during their investigation?”
After receiving a hollow response from Telstra, which the senator, the AFP and I all knew was utterly false, the senator states:
“Why would Telecom withhold vital documents from the AFP? Also, why would Telecom penalise COT members for providing documents to the AFP which substantiate that Telecom had conducted unauthorised interceptions of COT members’ communications and subsequently dealt in the intercepted information by providing that information to Telecom’s external legal advisers and others?” (See Senate Evidence File No 31)
What is so appalling, about this withholding of relevant discovery documents – in my case more than 24,000 – until after I had submitted my claim and Telstra had replied to that claim, is that no one in the TIO office or government has ever investigated the disastrous impact this had on my overall submission to the arbitrator. This dumping of documents, on 24 December 1994, meant that by the time the arbitrator finished his Christmas holidays, the official time for me to reply to Telstra’s defence of 12 December 1994, had already expired. The arbitration agreement (official rules) allowed me only one month to submit my reply.
When the president of the Institute of Arbitrator Australia Laurie James decided to investigate this dumping of documnets, with the end result that I was unable to use these documnets to support my arbitration claim Dr Hughes (the arbitrator) wrote to Mr James advising him that he and the arbitration resource unit had themselves viewed these 24,000 documents. Yet, the arbitration unit officially advised the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (the administrator to arbitration) that the documents were NOT viewed, as they had arrived too late for me to assess and therefore were not submitted. As if this misinforming Laurie James concerning this dumping of documents was not bad enough, Dr Hughes also failed to tell Mr James that he disallowed me the extra time I officially asked to submit a number of relevant documents that surfaced from this late release. (See Chapters Three and Four/Prologue page)
The following link at > https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Two letters, one dated 20 January 1994, from Ms Philippa Smith, Commonwealth Ombudsman to Telstra’s corporate secretary Jim Holmes, and the other dated 25 March 1994, to Telstra’s CEO Frank Blount, also from Ms Philippa Smith, (see Home Page – Part One File No/2-A to 2-E) suggests Telstra was knowingly withholding FOI documents from us even before we signed our arbitration agreements.
If you read through Prologue/Chapters two to five, I believe it will lead you to ask yourself why, less than a year after the arbitrator had completed (and rejected my claim that my telephone problems were ongoing throughout my arbitration), that same arbitrator would, apparently deliberately, mislead the Institute of Arbitrators Australia in relation to the many deficiencies in the agreement (the rules) that underpinned the entire arbitration process, particularly when I had already complained about those same serious deficiencies to the government who had endorsed the process?
This question then becomes even more interesting when it is linked to a letter that the same arbitrator had previously written to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman during because, in that letter (see Open Letter File No 55-A) , the arbitrator had condemned the very same arbitration agreement (rules) he had just used, because, he said, it was ‘not credible’. This is further explained in detail in Prologue/Chapter Five. At this point it is also important to take into account a number of arbitration rules that had been introduced into the agreement by the defendant’s lawyers, because they were clearly inserted to benefit their client (the defendants in the case) and, furthermore, those rules in particular were certainly ‘not credible’! The Australian government and media and the COT’s themself (including me) prior to us signing this agreement that it had been drafted by the arbitrator and TIO legal Counsel when in fact, it had been faxed to the TIO by Telstra’s lawyers.
This part of our story also raises yet another question, one that is just as appalling, and this one comes from Prologue/Chapter five: why would an arbitrator even continue to use an agreement after he had classified it as ‘not credible’, which is exactly what this arbitrator did during my arbitration?
The current ongoing Royal Commission into how a barrister can be seduced, by a branch of the Victorian Police force, to breach client confidentiality (as the following link Nicola Gobbo’s third day of Lawyer X royal commission … – ABC) shows this type of violation of the law does happen in today’s world.
Renowned criminal author Evan Whitton also exposed this behaviour in Australia, as his publication Our Corrupt Legal System: Why Everyone is a Victim (See OUR CORRUPT LEGAL SYSTEM – Why Everyone is a Victim (Except Rich Criminals) (2009)
For the COT arbitrator to investigate only one part of the COT cases’ claims – old historic phone faults and not those still affecting the viability of our businesses – a special deal between Telstra, the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman (the administrator of the arbitrations) and the arbitrator must have been secretly entered into. AUSTEL’s official April 1994 COT Cases Report acknowedges that Telstra’s Service Verification Testing process must be conducted and in order for the arbitrator and/or assessor to determine whether our phones were working in accordance with government licencing specifications (see Chapter One Service Verification Tests before our arbitrations were concluded. That SVT process, in my case, was NEVER conducted under the government’s regulatory specifications (see Chapter Eight Arbitrator / Part Two) is testament my claims are valid.
Dr Hughes (arbitrator) was advised in writing by his own technical resource unit, on 30 April 1995, “A comprehensive log of Mr Smith’s complaints does not appear to exist.” But a comprehensive log did exist: I explained to the arbitrator that it was faxed to his office in and around June 1994, but he NEVER located it. Some 76 testimonials, similar to the ones shown below, along with more than 200 fault-complaint documents, were faxed from my office or sent by Australia Post to the arbitrator in support of my claims that my telephone and faxing problems were still ongoing (see also Prologue/Chapter One). Why were these fault reports and testimonials concealed from the technical resource unit? Who benefitted from having this material concealed from the process? Was this faxed material hijacked? (See the Fax hacking segment below.)
A letter dated 6 April 1993, from Cathy Lindsey, Coordinator of the Haddon & District Community House Ballarat (Victoria) to the Editor of Melbourne’s Herald-Sun, read:
“I am writing in reference to your article in last Friday’s Herald-Sun (2nd April 1993) about phone difficulties experienced by businesses.
I wish to confirm that I have had problems trying to contact Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp over the past 2 years. (See My Story Evidence File 10-B)
On the 12 July 1993, a newspaper article from the Portland Observer Newspaper is headed ‘Network Complaints Taken Up by MPs’, and notes:
“Problems highlighted by Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp operator Alan Smith, with the Telecom network have been picked up on by not only other disgruntled customers but Federal politicians. Having suffered a faulty telephone service for some five years, Mr Smith’s complaints had for some time fallen on deaf ears, but it now seems people are standing up and listening. Federal Member for Wannon, David Hawker, described the number of reports of faulty and inadequate telephone across Australia as alarming. Mr Hawker said that documents recently presented to him showed that the problems people had been experiencing Australia wide had been occurring repeatedly in the Portland region.” (See Cape Bridgewater Chronology of Events File No -17)
The pressure on all four of us COT cases was immense, with TV and newspaper interviews as well as our continuing canvassing of the Senate. The stress was telling by now but I continued to hammer for a change in rural telephone services. The Hon David Hawker MP, my local Federal member of parliament, had been meeting and corresponding with me since before he wrote this letter of 26 July 1993.
“A number of people seem to be experiencing some or all of the problems which you have outlined to me. …
“I trust that your meeting tomorrow with Senators Alston and Boswell is a profitable one.”(See Arbitrator File No/76)
On 18 August 1993 (during this same period) The Hon David Hawker MP wrote to me, noting:
“Further to your conversations with my electorate staff last week and today I am enclosing a copy of the correspondence I have received from Mr Harvey Parker, Group Managing Director of Commercial and Consumer division of Telecom.
“I wrote to him outlining the problems of a number of Telecom customers in the Western Districts, including the extensive problems you have been experiencing.” (See Arbitrator File No/77 and Arbitrator File No/82)
Comments made from the Herald Sun newspaper dated 30 August 1993, confirm just how damaging some of these newspaper articles were to my already ailing business with statements like:
“The Royal Children’s Hospital has told a holiday camp operators in Portland that it cannot send chronically ill children there because of Telecom’s poor phone service. The hospital has banned trips after fears that the children’s lives could be at risk in a medical emergency if the telephone service to the Portland camp continued to malfunction”.
The centre’s stand follows letters from schools, community groups, companies and individuals who have complained about the phone service at Portland’s Cape Bridgewater Holiday camp.”
Youths from the Royal Children’s Centre for Adolescent Health, who were suffering from “chronic illnesses”, visited the camp earlier this year.
Group leader Ms Louise Rolls said in a letter to the camp the faulty phones had endangered lives and the hospital would not return to the camp unless the phone service could be guaranteed”
Regardless of the negative effective that some of these newspaper articles were having on the well-being of my business, particularly when they were combined with various damaging comments from customers, such as: “… the faulty phones had endangered lives and the hospital would not return to the camp unless the phone service could be guaranteed”, I kept focused on what COT was pushing for: a Senate Inquiry into Telstra’s unethical treatment of our small group of legitimate claimants.
During all this toublesome time I continued to sponsor under-privileged groups to stay at the camp. I arranged sponsored food purchases through the generosity of a number of commercial food outlets and these groups then just used the camp facilities — it didn’t actually cost me anything other than a small amount of electricity and gas. At one point around this time, May 1992, I had organised a charity week for kids from Ballarat and the South West, including Warrnambool, Hamilton and Portland. This group was organised by Sister Maureen Burke IBVM, the Principal of Loreto College in Ballarat, and I am sure she would not be offended to know that I think of her as the ‘mother’ of the project.
Arrangements regarding food, transport, and any special needs the children might have, had to be handled over the phone, and of course, Sister Burke had enormous problems making phone contact, Calls were either ringing out or she was getting a deadline, or a message that the number she was ringing was not connected to the Telstra network. Sister Burke knew otherwise. On two particular occasions in 1992, after trying in vain all through one week, she decided to drive the 3½ hours to make the final arrangements for those camps.
Twelve months later, in March of 1993, Sister Karen Donnellon, also from Loreto College, tried to make contact to arrange an annual camp. SisterSister Karen Donnellon, also from Loreto College, tried to make contact to arrange an annual camp. Sister Donnellon later wrote:
“During a one week period in March of this year I attempted to contact Mr Alan Smith at Bridgewater Camp. In that time I tried many times to phone through.
Each time I dialled I was met with a line that was blank. Even after several re-dials there was no response. I then began to vary the times of calling but it made no difference.”
Some years later, I sent Sister Burke an early draft of this manuscript Absent Justice which exposes the many injustices that transpired before and during to my commercial assessment/arbitration process. Sister Burke wrote back,
“Only I know from personal experience that your story is true, otherwise I would find it difficult to believe. I was amazed and impressed with the thorough, detailed work you have done in your efforts to find justice”
AUSTEL wrote to Telstra on 10 February 1994 stating:
“Yesterday we were called upon by officers of the Australian Federal Police in relation to the taping of the telephone services of COT Cases.
“Given the investigation now being conducted by that agency and the responsibilities imposed on AUSTEL by section 47 of the Telecommunications Act 1991, the nine tapes previously supplied by Telecom to AUSTEL were made available for the attention of the Commissioner of Police.” (See Illegal Interception File No/3)
On 3 March 1994: this article appeared in the Portland Observer newspaper (See Hacking-Julian Assange File No/29) noting:
“Federal Police officers are investigating allegations of possible illegal activity on the part of Telecom Australia.
Officers from the Federal Police visited Portland last week and interviewed Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp proprietor, Alan Smith, who is one of the four original members of COT (Casualties of Telecom).”
As these interceptions were the subject matter of our four arbitration claims, AUSTEL, as the facilitator of our arbitrations and the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman (the administrator of the process), should not have allowed it to be broadcast or discussed in the media. AUSTEL knew these matters were confidential and were to form part of our confidential arbitration process; however, AUSTEL provided the AFP with NINE audio tapes of our telephone conversations in February 1994 (see Illegal Interception File No/3) but withheld the same information from us four COT cases. What legal right did the government’s communications regulator have to provide our arbitration evidence to ONLY the AFP and not the four claimants who would need this evidence to secure that part of our arbitration claims? Even Senator Richard Alston (then Shadow Minister for Communications) demanded answers in the Senate as to why this evidence was withheld from us four COT cases.
When the government communications regulator decided to withhold these NINE AUDIO tapes from the COT cases during their arbitrations with Telstra (the defendant in those arbitrations) they enabled Telstra not to have to defend this part of the COT cases’ claims. This single action allowed the illegal interception of the COT cases’ faxed claim documents to go unnoticed (under the radar). This severely compromised each of the COT cases’ claims. Was it the media vultures, waiting to hear what was in these NINE audio tapes, who prompted AUSTEL to conceal this vital evidence from the arbitration process
Exhibit 11 in the TIO Arbitration Administrators explains very clearly: as soon as the TIO had been officially appointed as the administrators of the COT arbitrations, three of Telstra’s most senior executives, Jim Holmes and Chris Vonwiller (both also members of the TIO Board) and Ted Benjamin (a member of the TIO Council) actually intended to use the media to destroy the true validity of the COT Cases’ claims. Exhibit 25 in the TIO Arbitration Administrators page then confirms how Senator Chris Schacht noted that he was astounded to learn that Telstra’s Ted Benjamin was allowed to attend regular TIO Council meetings, even while COT arbitrations issues were being discussed. Furthermore, both the TIO Arbitration Administrators and the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman pages also show why it was actually unconstitutional to force the COT cases into an arbitration process while the defendant in that process had access to arbitration-related information that the COT Cases did not have access to.
Fax hacking continues
The fax imprint across the top of the following Open Letter File No 55-A from the arbitrator (Dr Hughes) to the administrator of my arbitration Warwick Smith, declaring the arbitration agreement used in my arbitration as not a credible document to have used in detemining my claim, but used it anyway, is the same as the fax imprint described in the Scandrett & Associates fax-interception report (see Open Letter File No/12 and File No/13), confirming faxes were intercepted during the COT arbitrations.
The COT Cases handed the Scandrett & Associates Pty Ltd report to the Australian Government in January 1999 and, much later, on 17 December 2014, I received an email from one of the two technical consultants who attested to the validity of this report. This email quite clearly stated:
“I still stand by my statutory declaration that I was able to identify that the incoming faxes provided to me for review had at some stage been received by a secondary fax machine and then retransmitted, this was done by identifying the dual time stamps on the faxes provided.” (Front Page Part One File No/14)
It is also clear from Front Page Part One File No/1, File No/2-A to 2-E, File No/3, and Front Page Part One File No/5, that numerous documents faxed from my office to the arbitrators office did not reach their intended destination.
Chapter Three in our Australian Federal Police Investigations page shows there is a connection between the loss of my faxed arbitration documents (see Front Page Part One File No/1) and the TIO’s 28 June 1995 letter stating that his office has no record of my 24 January 1995 letter to the arbitrator requesting him to seek various documents from Telstra under the discovery process? My 24 January 1995 letter requesting a copy of the Cape Bridgewater/Bell Canada information to be provided from Telstra through the arbitration process was received as the following exhibit Front Page Part One File No/2-A to 2-E. shows. I ask once again, how could the arbitrator make a proper determination on reasonable grounds as to the link between the claim and alleged faults when so many claim documents never made it to his office?
NONE of the COT Cases were ever on a terrorist list in 1994 (or since, for that matter) and nor were any of us ever listed as suspects in relation to any crimes committed against any Australian citizens. This means that we must therefore ask: why were these innocent claimants’ in-confidence arbitration and Telstra-related documents hacked by Telstra while Telstra was defending the various COT cases arbitrations? In my own case, 42 separate sets of correspondence faxed to the Arbitrator’s office (some with attachments) are not listed on the Arbitration Schedules of Material received by the Arbitration process. It is clear from Front Page Part One File No/1 that even though the Arbitrator’s secretary advised Tony Watson (part of Telstra’s Arbitration Defence Unit) that on 23 May 1994, six of my claim documents were never received at the Arbitrator’s fax machine. It is clear from my Telstra account I was charged for those six faxes as having left my office, yet no one from the Arbitrator’s office nor the TIO’s office when this matter was exposed, allowed me to amend my claim so that these proven “non received” claim documents were valued by the Arbitrator in support of my claim.
During the infamous UK phone-hacking scandal (see opposite), the Daily Mirror printed an apology in that newspaper, admitting that “such behaviour represented an unwarranted and unacceptable intrusion into people’s private lives”. Why hasn’t the Australian government compensated the COT Cases who have so clearly proved that: an unwarranted and unacceptable intrusion into their private and business lives during their arbitrations ruined any chance they had of having a proper assessment of their arbitration claims i.e. an arbitration process originally endorsed by the government?
The COT cases should never have been forced into arbitration while the AFP was investigating Telstra for unauthorised phone and fax hacking issues. Evidence showing in-confidence COT cases privileged client to lawyer and arbitration procedural documentation was hacked into during the COT arbitrations.
There should have been NO arbitration until the Australian Federal Police (AFP) completed its findings. No other Western nation allows two legal processes to run at the same time (i.e., the AFP investigation as well as arbitration) as one impedes upon the other. This is exactly what happened. It was unconstitutional to force a citizen into this type of no win situation. Even worse, if that is at all possible, once I began to assist the AFP in their interception investigations Telstra stopped supplying my requested FOI documents.
In 1999, while I was working on the draft of absentjustice.com, I provided it to Rupert Murdoch’s sister, Helen Handbury. She was aghast at the blatant denial of natural justice that I had received. Helen twice visited my holiday camp and, after reading the draft, stated that she would have Rupert publish it. She believed he would be shocked.
Helen was astounded when she discovered just how much evidence I had accumulated over the years, partly because it proved just how long ago both the illegal fax hacking and the discrimination had started, serious discrimination that was handed out by those who had administered my arbitration process. She said that she had been really upset to even contemplate how much suffering and stress had been piled on to the members of COT, just because we persisted with our battle to get a reliable phone service, not just for ourselves, but also for other phone-dependent businesses in South West Victoria. After reading the many supporting letters I had received from The Hon David Hawker MP, when he was our local Member of Parliament, and seeing that those letters also showed quite clearly that many individuals from the towns around Hamilton (which was not far from where Helen and her husband ran their farm) had also written to Mr Hawker about the phone problems they were suffering, and that he had passed those letters on to me, so I could take them with me, to Parliament house, in Canberra. It was then that Helen asked if she could read my book, particularly when I told her that the manuscript included actual proof of how someone with access to Telstra’s network had severely disrupted the fax process of numerous claim documents that I had attempted to fax to the arbitrator during my arbitration.
Of course, 1999 was before the hacking scandal linked to the News of the World.
Unfortunately, Helen died in 2004. Some years later, on 26 September 2012, I sent a draft of the original version of Ring for Justice to her husband, Geoff Handbury, and told him about my conversation with Helen. I asked whether he could suggest the best way for me to get a copy of the book to Rupert Murdoch.
Mr Handbury replied on 17 October 2012 in a handwritten letter (with beautiful, old-fashioned penmanship that we no longer see). However, he was then 87 years old and although highly respected for his philanthropic support of many worthwhile projects in Victoria, too much time had passed and, sadly, he wasn’t able to help. Still, I have the memory of how the sister of the biggest newspaper-owner in the world believed my “intriguing story” was certainly one that her brother should publish and I’m grateful for her comments.
Back to my arbitration
Transcripts from my 11 October 1994 oral arbitration hearing confirm Telstra advised the arbitrator they thought my singles club information was irrelevant and therefore should not be accepted into the arbitration process. This evidence supported that I had lost two businesses due to my ongoing telephone problems, i.e., the school camp bookings as well as the more-lucrative singles club bookings. The transcripts, which I can supply the AFP if requested, show Dr Hughes was badgered into accepting Telstra’s insistence that my singles club material be not assessed during the arbitration process. Why did Dr Hughes allow Telstra to decide not to view my singles club evidence as a business loss, even though he had previously understood the advice given to me by Superintendent Detective Penrose and had agreed the singles club material could be submitted under confidentiality during the oral hearing? That he went back on his word.
Question 24, in the 20 September 1994 interrogatories shows I answered the following question 24 by stating to Telstra and the arbitrator:
“This matter is currently under investigation by the Federal Police. In the interest of fair justice I believe that I should not further comment apart from what I have already stated that it is true that I was told this by Detective Superintendent Penrose. It the Australian Federal Police are prepared to disclose the details of their investigations and of their conversations with myself, then Telecom will be able to obtain the same”
In our Front Page) for the date of 11 October 1994, during my five-hour, nonstop, oral-arbitration hearing, Telstra’s Mr Benjamin and Telstra’s other arbitration liaison officer, Steve Black, discussed along with the arbitrator and me my claims regarding Telstra’s unauthorized interception issues noting:
Mr Benjamin: “In respect of Detective Superintendent Penrose.”
Mr Black:“There has been an allegation that Detective Superintendent Penrose says that the Plummers’ telephone was allegedly unlawfully tapped” —
Me: “I believe Telecom is playing on words – the word “illegally tapped” – it’s like asking me – I’m not a —
Dr Hughes: “Sorry, if I can interrupt both of you, the issue here is that your answers – your answer to question 24, you indicate that you were told something by Detective Superintendent Penrose.”
Dr Hughes: “Is there any documentation to support that statement or is there any other light that you can shed upon that statement you have made in relation to Detective Penrose?”…
Me: “I have spoken to Detective Penrose on two occasions and he has stated that my phones had been listened to.”
I raise the interrogatories and the oral arbitration hearing because of the main question they raise: how could it possibly be ethical, or moral, for Dr Hughes to expect me to disclose further personal and private information about the female members of my Singles Club, for all to see, when the AFP were still investigating Telstra in relation to how they were able to separately record the names and phone numbers of various other female Singles Club members when that information had only ever been sent by fax or discussed over the telephone. NONE of my singles club lost revenue due to my ongoing proven telephone faults were ever recorded by Dr Hughes (arbitrator) or Ferrier Hodgson Corporate Advisory (arbitration resource unit) in their final Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp findings.
Arbitrators letter hacked
Warwick Smith (TIO and administrator to the arbitration process) and Dr Gordon Hughes (arbitrator) withheld their knowledge from elected members of parliament, the media and the four COT claimants that they had allowed the defendants lawyers to draft the agreement. The same agreement that Dr Gordon Hughes advised Warwick Smith, on 12 May 1995, (see Chapter Five/Prologue page) was not a credible document to have used in my arbitration, but used it anyway (see also Open Letter File No 55-A) was intercepted by a third party (hacked).
Did Dr Hughes never stop to think for one moment that there were so many deficiencies in the agreement because it was planned that way, deliberately, by Telstra’s lawyers, with one aim in mind: to benefit their client? Regardless of what went through Dr Hughes’ head however, he should never have used an agreement that he himself branded as ‘not credible’ to deliberate on my claim.
Dr Hughes letter to Warwick Smith was faxed to the TIO’s office on the following Saturday afternoon at 14.41 hours and then re-faxed to Warwick Smith’s home at 14.50 hours the same day. At 17.15 hours, four documents, including a Media Release, were faxed to various TIO Board and Council members (see Open Letter File No 55-C). The Media Release, from Warwick Smith, announced that:
“The Administrator noted that the arbitration process, under the direction of the independent Arbitrator, Dr Hughes, appointed with the agreement of the parties, had been run in accordance with the principles of natural justice.” (See Open Letter File No 55-B)
PLEASE NOTE: The Media Release does not refer to Dr Hughes’ written opinion that:
“… if the process is to remain credible, it is necessary to contemplate a time frame for completion which is longer than presently contained in the Arbitration Agreement.”
Likewise, Warwick Smith’s public media release also ignored three more very important facts:
1. During my arbitration, Telstra threatened that if I did not stop assisting the AFP with their investigations into Telstra’s unethical conduct, then I would not receive any more of Telstra’s discovery documents – documents I desperately needed to fully support my claim;
2. Telstra then actually carried out those threats, even though they were aware that the AFP had actually formally requested my assistance;
3. Many of the legally appropriate claim documents that I submitted to the arbitration simply never made it to the arbitration process, even though my fax billing account clearly shows that they were correctly faxed to the arbitrator’s office.
Equally appalling is that, again, Warwick Smith’s public media release has absolutely no mention of how, even though Telstra dumped 24,000 FOI documents on me too late for me to properly assess, still Dr Hughes stopped me from submitting any of these 24,000 documents because the time allowed for in the arbitration agreement had, by then, expired.
Why was none of this appalling behaviour ever made public in Warwick Smith’s media release? (See Open Letter File No 55-B)
No controll over the process
The Australian government has yet to delegitimise the COT arbitrations on the grounds they did not comply with the ambit of the Arbitration procedures. In fact, regardless of the government being officially advised on 26 September 1997, after most of the arbitrations were concluded, by the second installed administrator of the arbitrations, John Pinnock, (see page 99 COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA – Parliament of Australia that:
“In the process leading up to the development of the arbitration procedures—and I was not a party to that, but I know enough about it to be able to say this—the claimants were told clearly that documents were to be made available to them under the FOI Act.”
“Firstly, and perhaps most significantly, the arbitrator had no control over that process, because it was a process conducted entirely outside the ambit of the arbitration procedures.”
Why were the arbitrations not conducted under the agreed ambit of the arbitration procedures? How can arbitration be a just process when the arbitrator has no control over how it is conducted? When did Dr Hughes lose control over the arbitrations? Was it the first week, or two months or even nine months into the process? And, just as importantly, who authorised him to conduct the process entirely outside of the ambit of the arbitration procedures? And why were we COT Cases not provided our promised documents?
When the four COT cases signed our government-endorsed arbitration, we were also unaware the confidentiality clauses would be used against us to stop us exposing criminal conduct perpetrated against us by the defendants and others associated with the administration of the process. This confidentiality agreement has successfully stopped a proper, transparent investigation into why the arbitrator had not control over the arbitration process (and why the arbitrations were conducted outside of the ambit of the arbitration procedures (see below). As the following link, Is a non-disclosure agreement legal if it is utilized to cover a, shows, Telstra, the previous arbitrator and the TIO allowed a secret deal to be implemented into the agreement as Chapter Seven below shows. This covert deal benefited Telstra, to the detriment of the claimants. These people should not be permitted to hide behind that confidentiality agreement, as has been the case these past two decades.
There have never been any amendments attached to any of the COT agreements that were signed by the COT members that allowed the Australian Federal Police to have access to our confidential arbitration claim documents so that the AFP could then decide whether or not we had a claim against Telstra for the unauthorized interception of our telephone conversations or arbitration faxes. In fact, it should be asked how the arbitrator and the TIO can still continue to hide behind a confidentiality clause – that actually IS included in our arbitration agreement – when that part of the agreement made absolutely no mention of the AFP making the decision about whether our claims were valid, substantiated or unsubstantiated?
How could you possibly have an allegedly independent arbitration process when two different identities i.e. the Arbitrator and the AFP, are both allowed to investigate the same claim documents AND decide the validity of those claims, which are being made against the same defendant, who is therefore under investigation by both parties? This is only one of the many situations that made the COT arbitrations a completely unworkable process.
Meanwhile, the members of the COT group have had to live with this error of judgment by the Government that officially endorsed our arbitrations.
Was this doubling up (i.e. the Arbitrator and the AFP) put into place deliberately, I wonder, so that the Arbitrator could then use the confidentiality clause in the agreement and refuse to explain why he did not make a finding in relation to these interception issues by claiming that his decision was made because the AFP had stated that it was a police matter and it was up to the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions], to lay charges against Telstra? (See Senate Hansard Evidence File No-1).
These are the clever cover-ups and collusive practices that have simply destroyed our lives.
A Matter of Public Interest
Senate Hansard records under the heading A MATTER OF PUBLIC INTEREST dated 20 September 1995, shows a very emotional Senator Ron Boswell discussing the above type of injustices that we four COT claimants ( i.e. Ann Garms, Maureen Gillan, Graham Schorer and me) suffered prior during and after our ‘so-called’ government endorsed arbitrations:
“Eleven years after their first complaints to Telstra, where are they now? They are acknowledged as the motivators of Telecom’s customer complaint reforms. … But, as individuals, they have been beaten both emotionally and financially through an 11-year battle with Telstra. …
“Then followed the Federal Police investigation into Telecom’s monitoring of COT case services. The Federal Police also found there was a prima facie case to institute proceedings against Telecom but the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions], in a terse advice, recommended against proceeding. …
“Once again, the only relief COT members received was to become the catalyst for Telecom to introduce a revised privacy and protection policy. Despite the strong evidence against Telecom, they still received no justice at all. …
“These COT members have been forced to go to the Commonwealth Ombudsman to force Telecom to comply with the law. Not only were they being denied all necessary documents to mount their case against Telecom, causing much delay, but they were denied access to documents that could have influenced them when negotiating the arbitration rules, and even in whether to enter arbitration at all. …
“This is an arbitration process not only far exceeding the four-month period, but one which has become so legalistic that it has forced members to borrow hundreds of thousands just to take part in it. It has become a process far beyond the one represented when they agreed to enter into it, and one which professionals involved in the arbitration agree can never deliver as intended and never give them justice.”
“I regard it as a grave matter that a government instrumentality like Telstra can give assurances to Senate leaders that it will fast track a process and then turn it into an expensive legalistic process making a farce of the promise given to COT members and the unducement to go into arbitration.
“Telecom has treated the Parliament with contempt. No government monopoly should be allowed to trample over the rights of individual Australians, such as has happened here.” (See Senate Hansard Evidence File No-1).
On the 27 January 1999, after reading the first draft of my manuscript ‘Absent Justice My Story’ Senator Kim Carr wrote:
“I continue to maintain a strong interest in your case along with those of your fellow ‘Casualties of Telstra’. The appalling manner in which you have been treated by Telstra is in itself reason to pursue the issues, but also confirms my strongly held belief in the need for Telstra to remain firmly in public ownership and subject to public and parliamentary scrutiny and accountability.
“Your manuscript demonstrates quite clearly how Telstra has been prepared to infringe upon the civil liberties of Australian citizens in a manner that is most disturbing and unacceptable
Senator Kim Carr again criticised the handling of the COT arbitrations on 11 March 1999 as the following Hansard link shows. Addressing the government’s lack of power, Senator Carr stated:
“What I do make a comment on is the question of civil liberties and the rights of citizens to approach this parliament and seek redress for their grievances when corporate power, particularly in a publicly owned corporation, has been abused. And there can be no question that that is what is at the heart of this issue.”
And addressing Telstra’s conduct, he stated:
“But we also know, in the way in which telephone lines were tapped, in the way in which there have been various abuses of this parliament by Telstra—and misleading and deceptive conduct to this parliament itself, similar to the way they have treated citizens—that there has of course been quite a deliberate campaign within Telstra management to undermine attempts to resolve this question in a reasonable way. We have now seen $24 million of moneys being used to crush these people. It has gone on long enough, and simply we cannot allow it to continue. The attempt made last year, in terms of the annual report, when Telstra erroneously suggested that these matters—the CoT cases—had been settled demonstrates that this process of deceptive conduct has continued for far too long.”(See >http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/chamberhansards1999-03-11)
Senator Schacht was possibly very vocal when he stated:
“I rise to speak to this statement tabled today from the working party of the Senate Environment Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Legislation Committee—a committee I served on in the last parliament—that dealt with the bulk of this issue of the CoT cases. In my time in this parliament, I have never seen a more sorry episode involving a public instrumentality and the way it treated citizens in Australia. I agree with all the strong points made by my colleagues
on both sides who have spoken before me on this debate. What was interesting about the Senate committee investigating this matter over the last couple of years was that it was absolutely tripartisan—whether you were Labor, Liberal or National Party, we all agreed that something was rotten inside Telstra in the way it handled the so-called CoT cases for so long.
The outcome here today is sad. There is no victory for citizens who have been harshly dealt with by Telstra.”
I remind the current Liberal and National Coalition Government of a newspaper article that appeared on 23 March 1999, in the Australian Financial Review, on the conclusion of the Senate Estimates committee hearing into why Telstra concealed so many arbitration documents from the COT cases:
“A Senate working party delivered a damning report into the COT dispute. The report focussed on the difficulties encountered by COT members as they sought to obtain documents from Telstra. The report found Telstra had deliberately withheld important network documents and/or provided them too late and forced members to proceed with arbitration without the necessary information,” Senator Eggleston said. “They [Telstra] have defied the Senate working party. Their conduct is to act as a law unto themselves.”
Other government ministers have shown their disgust at the way Telstra was able to act as a law unto themselves as can be seen from Senator Mark Bishop’s statement shown below notes in the following link > aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/displaychamberhansards1999-03-11
Significant issues do arise. I think it is appropriate to refer to the final paragraphs of the committee report. In the second to last paragraph, the report of the committee tabled by Senator Eggleston says:
Estimates of Telstra’s costs in relation to the CoTs issue since the claims were made exceed $20 million ($14.285 million to 1997 and rising). Most of the expenditure has been spent, not on settlement but on administrative and legal costs. It became quite clear early in the process that the claimants had in fact been disadvantaged by malfunctions in their telephone system. It is difficult to understand why Telstra appeared to prefer to deny that there was a problem and then prolonged the difficulties in establishing the extent of that problem.
The final sentence reads:
In the Committee’s view Telstra should now seek to reach a negotiated agreement with the interested parties.
If fault is to be allocated at this very early stage of the final lap, that fault lies at the door of Telstra. It really is appropriate for Telstra, a $100 billion corporation, to stop using its monopoly power, to stop retaining the services of dozens of highly paid solicitors and to come to the table and to seek to reach a negotiated agreement with these four or five persons. It is simply outrageous that Telstra, which is still a public corporation, can spend something in the order of $20 million – Senator Boswell – Some $24 million.
Senator Mark Bishop –
“I am informed by Senator Boswell it is 24 million – defending a claim when the claim before it is somewhere between $2 million or $4 million. This is simply an outrageous propostion and a waste of public money”.
A fair resolution of all the COT cases claims has still not been reached as the following An injustice to the remaining 16 Australian citizens shows.
Senator Len Harris, who won his Senate seat on 2 July 1999 for the One Nation party, then lived in Queensland, 2,977 kilometres from Melbourne. On 25 July 2002, Senator Len Harris travelled from Cairns in Queensland (a trip that took more than seven hours) to meet four other COTs and me, in Melbourne, in an attempt to ensure our claims of discrimination against the Commonwealth were fully investigated. He was appalled that 16 Australian citizens were so badly discriminated against in such a deplorable fashion by the then-Coalition government, despite a Senate estimates committee working party being established to investigate all 21 COT-type claims against Telstra.
He was stunned at how I had collated this evidence into a bound submission. When Senator Harris read the 9 August 2001 letter from Senator Alan Eggleston Liberal Party warning me that if I disclosed the in-camera Hansard records (which supported my claims that sixteen Australian citizens had been discriminated against in the most deplorable manner) I would be held in contempt of the Senate and risk jail, he Senator Harris, was very upset to say the least.
At a press conference the next day, Senator Harris aimed questions at the Hon Senator Richard Alston, Minister for Communications noting:
“Through the following questions, the media event will address serious issues related to Telstra’s unlawful withholding of documents from claimants, during litigation.
- Why didn’t the present government correctly address Telstra’s serious and unlawful conduct of withholding discovery and/or Freedom of Information (FOI) documents before the T2 float?
- Why has the Federal government allowed five Australians (from a list of twenty-one) to be granted access to some of the Telstra discovery documents they needed to support their claims against Telstra, but denied the same rights to the other sixteen?
- Why has the Federal Government ignored clear evidence that Telstra withheld many documents from a claimant during litigation?
- Why has the Federal Government ignored evidence that, among those documents Telstra did supply, many were altered or delivered with sections illegally blanked out? (See Senate Evidence File No 56 ).
Senator Len Harris is possibly one of the finest men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, a true man that believes in justice for all, not just those with political clout. The senator could not understand how, despite various senators from both houses of parliament openly condemning Telstra’s unethical conduct towards those five litmus test COT claimants during their arbitrations and the Senate investigation itself, the other 16 were left to their own devices. The in-camera Senate Hansard records indicate that no one seemed to grasp the importance of Senator Schacht’s advice to the committee that, if Telstra only provided compensation to the five litmus test cases and not the other 16, it would be an injustice because they had also suffered similarly at the hands of Telstra.
An important point
When the Senate committee only helped the five litmus test claimants gain access to documents previously withheld from them, as Senator Harris’ press release shows and not the remaining 16 those fellow 16 Australian citizens were discriminated against in the most deplorable undemocratic way. These five claimants, on top of receiving their long-awaited discovery documents, they also received millions of dollars in compensation for being denied their right to discovery. Twenty-years on and those 16 Cases (some have died since) are still waiting to be treated in the same manner by the Australian government as their fellow five colleagues were treated (see An injustice to the remaining 16 Australian citizens).
On the 6 January 2003, the Hon David Hawker MP wrote to me noting:
“Thank you for your correspondence received throughout December, 2002. Copies will be forwarded to the Minister for Communications and Information Technology, along with the videotape, “Phone Wiring Details at Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp.”
Did the government bureaucrats who received this video from Mr Hawker MP, pass it onto the Hon Senator Richard Alston, the then Minister of Communications and Information Technology? I appears as though no one bothered to demand answers from Telstra as to why they installed this wiring in 1991 in such a shallow trench with connecting cables loose in the Customer Access Network (CAN) junction box which allowed moisture to seep in and damage the whole wiring system – the very wiring system Telstra rewired at the business in November/December 2002, seven years after my arbitration failed to investigate my ongoing arbitration complaints.
Meanwhile, in December 2001, I had finally made the difficult decision to sell my beloved Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp because I could no longer cope with the ongoing, unaddressed phone faults that still plagued my business as a direct result of Telstra (under oath) submitting a seriously false, apparently formal report to the arbitrator. Even though that report claimed that their arbitration testing process had not found any problems in the Cape Bridgewater phone service system at all and even though Telstra’s Falsified SVT Report shows, quite clearly, that the Government had, meanwhile, secretly condemned Telstra’s Falsified SVT Report Service process itself; the process that Telstra themselves had carried out at my business. Yes, Telstra themselves carried out the testing process that was supposed to find out if their own system was working correctly!
In the case of at least six of the Service Verification Tests conducted at the COT-cases businesses including my businesses, NO supervised testing of those service lines were carried out by anyone other than the defendants Telstra i.e. NO independent arbitration umpire was present when these tests used by Telstra as defence documents were in attendance when they were conducted. As shown in our absentjustice.com/ Service Verification Tests page Telstra fabricated their Cape Bridgewater SVT arbitration testing.
What then transpired would have been laughable, if the results didn’t have such serious consequences. In my case, DMR Group Australia Pty Ltd was not available during the SVT process conducted on 29 September 1994, and thus Telstra was allowed to conduct the entire Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp SVT process without any sort of supervision from the arbitrator. In fact, even though DMR Group Australia Pty Ltd was named in the Arbitration Agreement as being the independent technical consultants for the first four arbitrations they never made themselves available for the whole entire arbitration process.
It was not until five months after Telstra had, claimed they had carried out the arbitration SVT process at my business premises, on 29 September 1994, that DMR Group Inc (in Canada) was commissioned (on 9 March 1995) as appointed technical arbitration consultants for the four COT arbitrations. So was this eleven-month delay in finding a technical consultant deliberately orchestrated perhaps, so that there was NO independent consultant around while Telstra fudged their SVT process? Paul Howell, of DMR Canada, did not fly over from Canada until the second week of April 1995.
PLEASE NOTE: before the arbitration process commensed in April 1994 the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman Warwick Smith (the official Administrator for the COT arbitrations) advised the first four COT cases that, if they signed for the TIO-administered arbitration, then the Arbitration appointed technical consultants, DMR Group Australia Pty Ltd, would ensure that all arbitration technical issues, such as the arbitration Service Verification Tests (SVTs), would be conducted according to the Government communications regulatory requirements. After all, what was the point of the Government-endorsed arbitration process, if those requirements were not met?
On 28 January 2003, a letter from TIO officer Gillian McKenzie to Telstra states:
“Mr & Mrs Lewis claim in their correspondence attached:
That they purchased the Cape Bridgewater Coastal Camp in December 2001, but since that time have experienced a number of issues in relation to their telephone service, many of which remain unresolved.
That a Telstra technician ‘Mr Tony Watson’ is currently assigned to his case, but appears unwilling to discuss the issues with Mr Lewis due to his contact with the previous camp owner, Mr Alan Smith.” (See Home-Page File No/76 and D-Lewis File 1-I)
Was there a more sinister motive involved in Telstra’s technician refusing to help Darren Lewis with the ongoing phone/fax problems that, nine years before, Telstra and the arbitrator assigned to my case failed to investigate transparently? Why was this Telstra technician still holding a grudge against me in 2002/3 because of something my 1994/95 arbitration should have addressed – i.e., the ongoing phone and facsimile problems that this same Telstra technician was now refusing to help Mr Lewis with, nine years later?
Darren Lewis was so angry with this Telstra employee that he took a number of photos of the actual wiring that ran from Telstra’s pit to his residence and his office (the same office that was mine from 1988).
As part of his plans to renovate the house, Mr Lewis had begun to prepare for a heating system to be installed under the house but, in the process, as he sunk his shovel into a water-soaked area, he accidentally cut into a Telstra cable that was only buried half a shovel deep. Water from an overflow downpipe from the main accommodation block had been running off and collecting over the Telstra cabling that had obviously not been buried deep enough (see the following photos taken by Mr Lewis at the time).
According to the AUSTEL’s records, the Telstra cable was installed in 1991 and, as this photo below shows, it was this faulty installation that led to the cable itself becoming waterlogged. Yet, on 6 April 1995, during my arbitration, when I begged Telstra and the arbitration’s so-called independent technical consultants to run a series of tests to all three of my service lines and inspect the Telstra pit outside the office to ensure that the Customer Access Network (CAN) was up to the proper network standard, my request was refused outright.
Mr Lewis took 22 photos that day, showing just how poor Telstra’s workmanship was when the cable was installed. The open pipe was full of water and water had run down the pipe to the u-bend. After Telstra installed new cabling, Darren advised the TIO, the number of incoming calls increased by more than 100 per cent: this is confirmed by CCAS data.
So what was my arbitration about? Shouldn’t the TIO and the technical consultants he appointed have investigated why I was still registering ongoing telephone problems? It certainly appears the real reason for the way the arbitration was run was to ensure that the Telstra Corporation could continue to conceal all the problems created by their ailing copper wire network, and really, all the arbitrator had to do was grant us an award to compensate us and cover up the rest, exactly as it has been ever since, for the past 20-plus years.
On 4 September 2006, Darren Lewis provided the Hon Senator Helen Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, with a two-page statutory declaration noting:
“Letters from us to our local Federal Member of Parliament, the Hon David Hawker, Speaker in the House of Representatives, led to Telstra visiting our business to investigate these continuing problems.
“After Telstra rewired the business including disconnecting a Telstra installed faulty phone alarm bell, we were informed Telstra had found other problems and believed who ever had installed the wiring had done an unprofessional job.
“Internal Telstra documentation provided to me by Allan Smith confirmed Telstra themselves had done the wiring.
“Jenny and I noticed that although our incoming-call rate had more than doubled once this wiring had taken place Telstra was still unable to provide a satisfactory reason as to why we were still having problems. …
“The technicians then in a hookup consultation with outside office guru’s [sic] did a fault graph reading on our 55 267267 line with the outcome that their office technical staff stated words to the affect [sic] the reading was impossible (couldn’t be correct). It was then that the local technician became quite annoyed when the technical guru insinuated that the equipment the local tech was using must be faulty. The local tech then informed the technical guru that there was nothing wrong with the equipment at all.” (See Main Evidence File No 13)
Most, if not all, of the COT cases suffered from sleep disorders and stress for years as a result of their battles, as Chapter One in Arbitrator Part One shows. On 23 February 2007, after Darren Lewis become suicidal following a confrontation with Telstra over ongoing telephone problems at the camp, Ms Howard, a Portland psychologist, visited my Cape Bridgewater residence. She was struggling to understand what Darren was talking about and why he felt suicidal. I provided her with documents supporting Darren’s valid claims about Telstra’s defective services, adding that I was sorry that Darren had ended up this way.
I provided Ms Howard with a letter dated 21 March 1999 and addressed to the Casualties of Telstra, C/- The Small Business Show, Channel Nine. This letter suggests others who ran foul of Telstra had suicided:
I believe that Darren first became concerned about the possibility that his phone conversations also may have been illegally listened to when he discovered my accreditation file in the camp office, where I had inadvertently left it when handing the Camp over to Darren. This file included Australian Federal Police/Telstra intercept documents, including one dated 14 April 1994 from Telstra to the AFP, notifying them that Telstra had installed equipment in the Portland exchange so that a bell would ring whenever I received an incoming telephone call, this allowed Telstra to listen in on those conversations (see Australian Federal Police Investigations).
During my 2008 Freedom of Information hearing I also provided the Australian Government – and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal No V2008/1836 – with copies of evidence which describes just how mentally traumatized Darren Lewis had become, as a direct result of reading my ‘absentjustice journal’. This is the original journal where I recorded my experiences at the holiday camp over some time, and it was this same journal that both Helen Handbury (Rupert Murdoch’s Sister) and Sister Maureen Burke IBVM, (Principal of Loreto College in Ballarat) had read earlier (see above). In fact, it was reading this journal that prompted Sister Burke to write to me, stating:
“Only I know from personal experience that your story is true, otherwise I would find it difficult to believe. I was amazed and impressed with the thorough, detailed work you have done in your efforts to find justice”
Sister Burke eventually became a really important part of my story and how this came about is explained in more detail in the draft of my manuscript, “Absent Justice”, which you can find below, in Part 1.
In December 2008, Darren Lewis wrote to the Federal Magistrates Court stating:
“I was advised by Ms McCormick that the Federal Magistrates Court had only received on 5th December 2008 an affidavit prepared by Alan Smith dated 2 December 2008. PLEASE NOTE: I originally enclosed with Alan Smith’s affidavit in the (envelope) overnight mail the following documents:
- Two 29 page transparent s/comb bound report titled SVT & BCI – Federal Magistrates Court File No (P) MLG1229/2008 prepared by Alan Smith in support of my claims that I had inherited the ongoing telephone problems and faults when I purchased the Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp
- Two s/comb transparent bound documents titled Exhibits 1 to 34
- Two s/comb transparent bound documents titled Exhibits 35 to 71 (the attached 71 Exhibits was enclosed in support of Alan Smith’s 29 page report);
- Three CD Disks which incorporated all of the submitted material.
“On learning from Ms McCormick that the information discussed above in points 1 to 4 had not been received by the Federal Magistrates Court I again had a stress attack seizure, a problem I have been suffering with for quite some time due to the predicament I now find myself in and the disbelief that once again my mail has been intercepted. I have attached herewith dated 3rd December 2008, a copy of the Australia Post overnight mail receipt docket numbers SV0750627 and SV0750626 confirming the total cost to send the above aforementioned information was $21.80. I am sure Australia Post would confirm that a large amount of documents would have been enclosed in these two envelopes when they left Portland.” (See My Story Evidence File 12-A to 12-B)
Australia Post will not charge any postage fee for an overnight parcel unless they stamp and retain it. Since neither of these parcels arrived at their proper destination with all of the information originally enclosed, those documents must, therefore, have been ‘lost’ between the Portland Post Office and the Magistrates Court.
As I have reported throughout this webpage numerous Telstra COT related arbitration documents (like those lost on route to the Federal Magistrates Court in December 2008) were also lost during 1994/95 on route to the arbitrator hearing my case.
As Darren’s letter shows, I helped him prepare his bankruptcy appeal against the Australian Taxation Office (for back taxes) using my own evidence that the Telstra Corporation, knowingly submitted two false and fundamentally flawed Cape Bridgewater reports to the arbitrator during my arbitration, to deliberately mislead the arbitrator into believing that there were no more ongoing phone problems affecting my busines
The only solution left open to me and the remaining fifteen COT Cases (after Telstra was privatized) was to seek access to our withheld discovery documents via the new government communications and media authority ACMA.
Although we address my Australian Communications Media Authority and Administrative Appeals Tribunal hearings throughout absentjustice.com, we thought it important we again highlight these two hearings at this stage of our story so you can form your own opinion as to whether I am a vexatious litigant or someone seeking the justice they were denied.
Transcripts from my two AAT hearings (respondents ACMA) on 3 October 2008 (No V2008/1836) and 26 May 2011 (No 2010/4634) show I maintained both my Freedom of Information applications to ACMA should be provided free of charge, in the public interest, including all of the requested information both Telstra and AUSTEL withheld during my government-endorsed arbitration process. Senior AAT member Mr G D Friedman considered both these AAT hearings and it is now apparent that Mr Friedman was unaware that the government solicitors (AGS) and ACMA based their defence of my claims on the inaccurate DCITA COT archival documents, including the sanitised public AUSTEL COT report released in April 1994. Neither document includes the true (and very adverse) findings that AUSTEL had originally reached in relation to Telstra’s dealings with me (see AUSTEL’s Adverse Findings).
It is also important to note again, that during my first AAT hearing (No V2008/1836) Mr Friedman stated:
“Let me just say, I don’t consider you, personally, to be frivolous or vexatious – far from it.
“I suppose all that remains for me to say, Mr Smith, is that you obviously are very tenacious and persistent in pursuing the – not this matter before me, but the whole – the whole question of what you see as a grave injustice, and I can only applaud people who have persistence and the determination to see things through when they believe it’s important enough.”
During my second AAT hearing (No 2010/4634), Mr Friedman stated:
“Mr Smith still believes that there are many unanswered questions by the regulatory authorities or by Telstra that he wishes to pursue and he believes these documents will show that his unhappiness with the way he has been treated personally also will flow to other areas such as it will expose the practices by Telstra and regulatory bodies which affects not only him but other people throughout Australia.
“Mr Smith said today that he had concerns about the equipment used in cabling done at Cape Bridgewater back in the 1990s. He said that it should – the equipment or some of the equipment should have a life of up to 40 years but, in fact, because of the terrain and the wet surfaces and other things down there the wrong equipment was used.”
During this second AAT hearing in May 2011, I again raised the telephone problems that had affected my business from before my arbitration to 1995, stressing that the arbitrator had failed to investigate or address most of those problems, and therefore allowed them to continue for a further 11 years after the end of the arbitration. Since that second AAT hearing, and as a result of Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout, which began in mid-2011 and is still continuing today, numerous faults, just like those that I raised during my arbitration and both AAT hearings, have been found to have continued unabated; this can be confirmed by a simple internet search for “Australia NBN”.
One of the documents I provided both the arbitrator in 1994 and the AAT in 2008 and again in 2011 is a Telstra FOI (folio A00253) dated 16 September 1993 and titled Fibre Degradation. It states:
“Problems were experienced in the Mackay to Rockhampton leg of the optical fibre network in December ’93. Similar problems were found in the Katherine to Tenant Creek part of the network in April this year. The probable cause of the problem was only identified in late July, early August. In Telecom’s opinion the problem is due to an aculeate coating (CPC3) used on optical fibre supplied by Corning Inc (US). Optical fibre cable is supposed to have a 40 year workable life. If the MacKay & Katherine experience are [sic] repeated elsewhere in the network, in the northern part of Australia, the network is likely to develop attenuation problems within 2 or 3 years of installation. The network will have major QOS problems whilst the CPC3 delaminates from the optical fibre. There are no firm estimates on how long this may take. …
“Existing stocks of Corning cable will be used in low risk / low volume areas.”(See Bad Bureaucrats File No/16)
Were the citizens of Australia entitled to be advised by the Australian government, before it sold off the Telstra network, that, e.g., the aforementioned optical fibre with CPC3 coating, supplied to Telecom/Telstra by Corning Inc (USA), was installed in their area? How many people in Australia have been forced to live with a subpar phone system, i.e., a known poor optical fibre that Telstra should NEVER have installed? How many businesses have gone up against the wall due to Telstra’s negligent conduct of knowingly laying their existing stocks of Corning cable in locations that Telstra believed were low risk/low volume areas?
Chapters one to three in our Tampering With Evidence page show Telstra was also prepared to re-deplore some 450,000 faulty TF200 telephones to locations where Telstra thought moisture was non-existent. The decision-makers regarding where Telstra installed these moisture-prone phones were certainly not trained in meteorology. I doubt that Telstra or the government advised these TF200 customers, when Telstra was sold off, that if they were experiencing phone problems that this was no longer Telstra’s problem or the government’s.
The other link https://9now.nine.com.au/a-current-affair/a-current-affair-nbn-nightmares, shows exactly how telephone customers were feeling in Australia in June 2019, 25 years after AUSTEL (government communications regulator) senior bureaucrats advised the Australian government that our ongoing telephone problems would be fixed as part of the arbitration process. They were not fixed during our arbitrations. As our story shows, Darren Lewis, the next owner of my business, suffered a complete nervous breakdown while being forced to live with the same ongoing phone problems he inherited after buying my business in 2001 (see Bad Bureaucrats/Chapter Four). In December 2008, Mr Lewis was declared bankrupt in the Australian Federal Magistrates Court.
I have referred to the satire that is currently on the Chaser’s ‘spoof’ website (see https://chaser.com.au/general-news/working-from-home-called-off-after-nation-already-sick-of-rebooting nbn/fbclid=IwAR2BhZu4kGdZkOeZpGcyzCJHRfYH7F7wIAR65Tv5Y4jQk_mm85nzAdy3KFE because, spoof or not, it actually exposes the real and serious problems associated with the National Broadband Network (nbn), problems that many Australians are still experiencing in 2020.
Back before the COT Cases’ arbitrations began, and so before we had each spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in arbitration legal fees for what turned out to be such unsuccessful attempts to have our telephone problems fixed (I spent well over $200,000), we were assured – by the Government – that our arbitrations would definitely solve all our telecommunications problems. Of course this did not happen and it is now important to note that there are some small business operators in Australia that are still experiencing ongoing network communications problems, regardless of those promises that the Government gave to us, that all the problems would be fixed as part of our Government-endorsed arbitrations.
Please read my story below
Have you ever had reason to believe something is wrong with your telephone system because the telephone calls you think you should be receiving are just not connecting as you thought they should due to your advertising promotional campaigns?
Have you ever discovered that, even though you know you were right beside the phone at a particular time, your friend insisted he had rung and you had not answered?
Has anyone ever mentioned in passing that they are amazed at how much time you spend on the phone when you know your phone hasn’t rung for days (and you have hardly made any outgoing calls)?
Have prospective clients abused you for being unprofessional and not answering your phone for days when the phone hasn’t even rung once for the last week?
If you have ever experienced only one of these situations then you will understand why I sometimes feel I have lived through a nightmare — I experienced all these problems, and more, for almost ten years. Unfortunately, I knew nothing of what was ahead of me when I bought my phone-dependent business at Cape Bridgewater, in rural Australia. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that the business was connected to an antiquated phone exchange which had been installed more than 30 years before and which was designed specifically for what the Australian telecommunications carrier (Telstra) designated as ‘low-call-rate areas’. This ancient telephone exchange was certainly never intended to handle the amount of calls that were already being made by residents and holiday makers in late 1987 when I arrived to take over the business, nor was it ever intended to handle the increased number of calls that occurred in this holiday village at holiday time.
This story could easily be your story: I know, because this nightmare was my nightmare.
Back in December 1987, when I first fell in love with the small accommodation centre perched high on a hill above a picturesque bay on the south coast of Victoria, Australia, I knew this was a business I could run successfully.
My working life began in 1960 when, at age 15, I went to sea as a steward on English passenger/cargo ships. In 1962 I jumped ship and started work in Melbourne as an assistant chef, moving from one elite hotel to another; Hotel London, Australia Hotel, Menzies.
Two years later, now aged 20, I joined the Australian Merchant Navy, starting out on the Princess of Tasmania and, by 1975, I had put in time as a chef on many Australian and overseas cargo ships. Time learning to manage hotels, motels and restaurants around Victoria followed.
By 1979, married to Faye and with two children, I was working freelance, both in the catering industry and on Melbourne tug boats, while I studied for a Hotel/Motel Management Diploma. I had already taken on a Hotel/Motel and pulled it out of receivership so that the owners could sell it, once it was running successfully again.
By 1987, at age 44, I had enough experience behind me to know that I had the skills, the expertise and the knowledge to take a simple school camp and turn it into a successful venue for social clubs and family groups as well as schools. Unfortunately, what my wife and I did not know about and could therefore not be prepared for, were the ensuing problems that would arise because of the ‘elderly’ phone system in the area. This local, unmanned phone exchange had only 8 lines but, even back then, in 1987, it was being used by 60 other resident families (120 individuals), as well as the school camp. This meant that if 4 of the local residents were on the phone at the same time then there were only 4 other lines left for calls to come in to the remaining 116 people, and my business, which was connected to this out-dated telephone exchange for the first 3½ years after I moved in: 3½ crucial years in which I had expected to establish the business on a firm ground.
In February 1988, before we moved in, and in preparation for the planned expansion of the camp, I had some 2,000 glossy, coloured brochures printed and distributed. We expected the phone to ring off the hook with inquiries. Well, to be a bit more conservative, anyone could expect at least a 1% inquiry rate as a result of this sort of direct marketing, coupled with the personal visits I made to almost 150 schools and shires to extol the virtues of the camp.
By April of 1988, Faye and I were becoming seriously concerned about the telephone system. Some people were beginning to ask accusingly why we never answered our phone and others were suggesting that we should have an answering machine installed to take calls when we were away from the office. Even after we installed a new answering machine, the same complaints continued, coupled now with complaints about incredibly long periods when the phone was apparently engaged. We both knew very well that the phone had not been engaged for long spaces of time and often the phone didn’t ring at all for days on end. These complaints continued for years and the business floundered as a result.
Later, long after our first complaint to Telstra, we discovered that the previous owner of the business had been complaining, unsuccessfully, about these same phone faults long before we purchased the camp. This was clearly proved by a document I received once I began requesting information under Australia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOI – refer Glossary) which, for a small fee, allows any citizen to request copies of documents pertaining to themselves or their business, from any Government department or instrumentality. Over the ensuing years, I accumulated literally thousands and thousands of FOI documents. The document which alerted me to the previous owner’s troubles was headed
“Telstra Confidential: Difficult Network Faults — PCM Multiplex Report; 31/1/94”, with a sub-heading “5.5 Portland — Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp”.
According to this document, Telstra was aware of the phone faults as far back as 1987, before we moved to Cape Bridgewater and before I lodged my first complaint which appears in Telstra’s archives on 26 April 1988.
When Faye and I looked at this business however, we were unaware of the existing phone problems and so we went ahead with the sale of our home in Melbourne and I took early retirement benefits to raise the money to invest in what we expected to be a new and exciting venture.
Understandably, Faye became increasingly frustrated with the complaints we were receiving about the phone system. We began to doubt ourselves. Were we talking too long on the phone? Were we not hearing the phone ring? Had we forgotten to switch on the answering machine?
Call ‘drop-outs’ occurred frequently — the line just went dead. Mostly, if we had a contact number, we had to ring the caller back but sometimes people rang us back. If the caller had not yet given us contact information and didn’t ring back, we lost that contact.
This new venture was not turning out to be quite as much fun as we had anticipated.
The real extent of the phone problem however, didn’t actually hit us until well into the Christmas period of 1988 when we put on a Christmas dinner for the locals in Cape Bridgewater. During this dinner I mentioned the phone problems we were struggling with. Harry, our next-door-neighbour, sympathised; his daughter, ringing from Colac, often complained about how difficult it was to get through to her parents. Fred Fairthorn, once the owner of ‘Tom the Cheap Grocery’ chain, concurred. His comment was “After all, what can you expect from Telstra when we’re in the bush?” Fred had suffered from similar problems over many years and later happily supplied a written statement to that effect.
As we rolled into the dawn of 1989 we were becoming more and more aware of what was to become our great nightmare. The failing phone system became the straw that broke the camel’s back of our 20-year marriage. I was beginning to run the business from a position of continual anger. Certainly, I couldn’t blame anyone but myself when the gas bottles ran out in the middle of serving a meal for guests; some of the few who had managed to get through on the phone and make a booking.
My advertising campaign didn’t work: I began to feel I hadn’t properly researched the pros and cons before moving to Cape Bridgewater. I was beginning to ask myself what I had done when I asked Faye to leave her friends in Melbourne, to agree to sell the family home just so I could satisfy my blind ambition to run my own business. And so, as bookings dwindled instead of increasing as we had expected, our negativity grew in proportion.
We went touring to South Australia, selling the concept of our camp through the Wimmera area and to numerous schools. Nothing seemed to work as it should have; sure there were occasional inquiries, but they were far from frequent.
The closest local township to the Cape Bridgewater camp was Portland, 20 km away. While there on a shopping expedition one day I realised I had left the meat order list behind. I phoned Faye only to get a Telstra recorded a message telling me that the number was not connected! I phoned again. Same message.
Telstra’s fault centre said they would look into the matter and so I went about the rest of the shopping, leaving the meat order to the last. Finally, I phoned the camp again; this time the phone was engaged. I decided to buy what I could remember from the meat order list and hope for the best.
Faye was not happy when I returned. The phone had not rung once while I had been away, she said, and how come I left the meat order behind anyway? She thought I was supposed to be such an efficient catering manager. My poor wife’s frustration was aimed straight at me, she didn’t stop to wonder why I couldn’t ring her from Portland
According to a Telstra FOI document, between 19th April 1988 and 10th January 1989, I phoned from the camp to complain about the phone service on nine separate occasions. Add to this the letters of complaint that I wrote, plus my complaint from Portland when the recorded message told me my own phone had been disconnected, and a picture begins to unfold.
Anyone who uses a telephone has at some time reached a recorded voice announcing “The number you are calling is disconnected” or something similar. Within the telecommunications industry these messages are referred to as RVAs or Recorded Voice Announcements (refer Glossary). Among the multitude of FOI documents that I received in 1994 was a copy of a Telstra internal e-mail dated 26/9/93, which refers to the need to “have a very basic review of all our RVA messages and how they are applied.” This e-mail goes on to say “… I am sure when we start to scratch around we will find a host of network circumstances where inappropriate RVAs are going to line.” Obviously, Telstra was aware of RVA problems long before I experienced them.
Another internal Telstra document notes
“As a result of the investigations into difficult customer complaints and associated reports it has become apparent that the present RVA for incorrect numbers requires revision”.
This memo refers in particular to the message
“The number you have called is not connected or has been changed. Please check the number before calling again. You have not been charged for this call.”
This confirms Telstra’s acknowledgement that serious faults existed, particularly since the author of this memo goes on to say
”….this message tends to give the caller the impression that the business they are calling has ceased trading, and they should try another trader.”
For a newly established business like ours, this was a major disaster but Telstra didn’t want to know, and certainly were not prepared to do anything about the situation Faye and I found ourselves in.
By mid-1989 our finances had dwindled and the bookings were still not coming in. We decided to sell some shares. The best price we could get was around $1.60 each for about 4,000 shares. Those shares were worth $34.00 each in October 2018.
Where had our savings gone? The sale of our home in Melbourne had raised $140,000 of the $280,000 investment we needed for the camp, leaving a mortgage of only a manageable $140,000. I had believed we were set for life: with a little hard work we should be under-way and running well by July 1989 but, here we were, in July 1989, within a mere 15 months of taking over the business and we were actually beginning to sell off our assets instead of reducing the mortgage.
I knew our marriage was suffering; my self-esteem was lower than it had ever been; I felt like a total failure. But things got worse, even though I didn’t think they could. Faye fell and broke her leg. Trips back and forward to the hospital added to the stress and, worse, the leg wasn’t setting as it should. A couple of short trips to visit friends in Melbourne cheered Faye up no end and, on the second trip, I used the time to do some marketing of the Camp around Caulfield and Huntingdale, and further into the city. I had decided to give it all I had.
At one point I rang the Camp answering machine, which had a remote access facility — allowing me to check the machine for any recorded calls. At least, it should have allowed me to check it, if I had been able to get through, but I couldn’t. All I could get was the same recorded message
“The number you are calling is not connected or has been changed. Please check the number before calling again. You have not been charged for this call.”
I decided not to tell Faye. She didn’t need to be reminded at this stage.
On the way home, just outside Geelong, Faye asked if I had checked for messages at the Camp. A white lie seemed appropriate. We stopped at the next phone box though, and rang home. The line was engaged. Somebody must be leaving a message on the machine! Or were they?
The only message recorded on the machine turned out to be from our friends in Melbourne, a call made the day we left, saying something like “Must have just missed you — see you when you get here.” Why had I received an engaged signal if there were no messages on the machine, other than one from days before? My previous call obviously wouldn’t have registered because I couldn’t get past the Telstra recorded message anyway. How many calls had we lost during the three days that we were away? How many frustrated prospective clients had given up trying to get through because they also reached a recorded message telling them the phone was no longer connected?
Faye was still making regular visits to the hospital and was, of course, not able to participate in any of the work around the place, so found herself with nothing to do and plenty of time to think. She found more and more reasons to travel away from the business: to her elderly parents, to the hospital, to see friends. Finally the burden of a failing business and the slow and difficult recovery from the broken leg became too much to bear: our marriage ended on 26 October 1989.
I had already been taking prescribed drugs for stress; that afternoon I added a quantity of Scotch and locked myself in one of the cabins on the property. Faye, understandably, became seriously concerned about my welfare and called the local police who broke into the cabin to ‘save’ me from myself. This was one of the many low points that I was to suffer as I battled to retain my sanity, my business and my standing in the local community. And still Telstra denied that there were any phone problems at Cape Bridgewater.
At this point, I need to fill in some details regarding an incident that occurred back in 1967, during the cultural revolution in China. At that time many young Australians were supporting the American fight against Communism in Vietnam and this young man was sailing with the Merchant Marines out of Australia. We were headed to China, from Port Albany in Western Australia, with a cargo of wheat, although the Australian Labor Party was against our ship leaving.
During our time in China I briefly ran foul of the Red Guards but, as luck would have it, I still managed to leave with my ship, the MV Hopepeak, believing I had left those troubles behind me. Apparently not. When I took refuge in the cabin on the afternoon of 26 October 1989, only to find my refuge attacked by a Police rescue team, I was transported straight back to China in 1967 (see Chapter Two / Hacking-Julian Assange) After some heavy discussions with my wife and my ‘saviours’ who, in my confused state, seemed more like the Red Guard soldiers than anything else, I was taken to hospital — in a straight jacket.
I will be forever grateful to the doctors who confirmed that I wasn’t going ‘nuts’ and who allowed me to return to the camp the following day, accompanied by my mate’s wife, Margaret. I will also be forever grateful to Jack for sending Margaret to ‘bail me out’ so to speak. The fun, however, had just begun.
Margaret and I arrived back at the Camp to be confronted with a disaster area. Faye of course had gone the night before, following advice from various ‘do-gooders’ and welfare people who insisted that she needed to be in a ‘safe house’. Various doors had been left unlocked, meat had been taken from the deep freeze and left on benches, the deep freeze itself was gone. Every time we turned around we found another problem to confront. And, according to my diary, 70 or more students from Monivae Catholic College in Hamilton were due to arrive on the twenty-ninth, two days away. The students were booked in for five days and four nights. Without Margaret’s unfailing assistance I would have been wiped out.
Cleaning and shopping were at the top of the agenda. In my heartbroken state, mourning the end of a 20 year marriage, the shopping list alone was a mountain I had to climb. What to feed to 70 students plus staff? Finally I got my head around how much meat and dry foods to order but it was already Sunday evening and the Monivae group were due the following day; the first meal they would need was dinner.
Then the hot water service broke down. The staff were not so happy about cold showers! Even so, from then, through to 1994, Monivae College returned to the camp two and sometimes three times a year. Their support throughout this awful period was much appreciated: it kept me trading.
I realised that Margaret was becoming increasingly worried about my mental health when she invited Brother Greg, one of the Monivae teachers, to the house to talk to me. Later I discovered that I had been rambling on in my sleep the night before, much to Margaret’s consternation.
I knew Brother Greg reasonably well and, with Margaret holding my arms and Brother Greg holding my hands, we talked well into the night, working through everything from my experiences in China to the end of 20 years of marriage.
Margaret had been thrown in at the deep end and she carried so much through those 6 or 7 days. Her support was invaluable.
Religion also played a part in bringing me back from the brink to face the task ahead. Many of the women from the church came to help me keep the camp running and to hold me back from tumbling into despair again. But I missed Faye. Like anyone who has separated after so many years, I missed the touch and the caring of another, close human being.
Through all of this, phone problems continued. Around mid-November of 1989, Chris, one of the women from the church, mentioned in passing that I must have forgotten to switch on the answering machine the day before: she’d rung but the call just rang and rang before finally cutting out. By this time I had already lodged complaints with Telstra’s fault centre in Hamilton and I had begun to keep a log of phone faults and customer complaints about the phone: I was recording all complaints I received in an exercise book, together with the names and contact information for each complaint. I also noted the effect these lost calls were having on both the business and on me.
That same day Chris went to the phone in the Kiosk at the camp to phone out. The line was dead. My first thought was “A loose wire somewhere.” and so I removed the cover from the phone connection box to locate this ‘loose wire’. Both Chris and I checked the socket but everything seemed intact. Still the line remained dead.
At this point, I had a brain-wave. I would try the customer’s coin-operated gold phone in the main dining room. This phone had a normal dial tone and was apparently working OK, so I dialled my office number, only to hear the dreaded voice again:
“The number you have called is not connected or has been changed. Please check the number before calling again. You have not been charged for this call.”
Of course, I actually had been charged for the call because the coin-operated gold phone certainly did not return my coins.
Five minutes later, after a trip to the main office for more change, I tried ringing again from the gold phone. This time the office phone appeared to be engaged (although, of course, it wasn’t) and the phone happily regurgitated my coins.
I used this testing routine, and others invented along the way, more and more frequently over the coming months but the situation was beginning to tell on me. Why was this still happening after so many complaints to Telstra. Was no-one paying any attention in there?
January 1st 1990 rolled around and I had a group staying at the camp over the holidays. Mrs Yasemin Sevik, one of the group, complained that the gold phone was not working. I duly recorded this complaint in my log-book and refunded Mrs Sevik’s money.
Later, during 1993, I hand delivered eighteen A4 pages of itemised phone complaints, including dates, times and names, to the St Kilda Road office of the then Shadow Minister for Communications, the Hon. Senator Richard Alston. These 18 pages included 183 logged faults, dating from late 1989 through to May 1993, as well as 53 written complaints from clients and tradespeople who had also taken the trouble to document their own experiences when trying to reach me on the phone. Mrs Sevik was the first complaint for 1990 and, by the 4th of March that year, I had ten more complaints on my list.
Since I was no longer one half of a working husband and wife team I continually had to dig deep into my almost non-existent financial reserves to cover labour costs or risk losing everything. With Faye gone I was suffering what is commonly known in the world of finance as a ‘consequential resultant loss’; now I had also had to begin to pay Faye a yearly dividend on her financial investment in the business, even though she was no longer contributing her unpaid labour, plus I had to find the dollars from somewhere to pay staff.
As we headed further into 1990 the future looked grim. The phone faults were no better; who knows how many prospective customers were lost because they couldn’t reach me by phone? Because the camp is in a fairly remote area, the phone was the only access city people had.
By now the legal vultures were circling. I hadn’t been able to abide by the original financial agreement with Faye and her solicitor was demanding more money for his client. My first payment to her came due and I couldn’t raise the funds to re-finance. I was having trouble meeting my own legal costs, let alone finding extra for Faye. My son’s $3000 school fees were overdue and I had nowhere to turn. I couldn’t think beyond today. The outlook could never get any bleaker I thought. How wrong I was!
In order to pay some of the mounting debts, I had sold the 22-seater school bus I had originally used to ferry customers around, and purchased a small utility in its place.
Through mutual friends, I had met Karen, a divorcee from Warrnambool, some 100 kilometres away. At least the little ute meant I could see Karen a couple of times a week and the relationship developed to become quite serious. When Karen heard that Faye’s solicitor was about to wind up my business, forcing me to sell because I couldn’t raise the funds to make any more payments to Faye, Karen put her house up as security for a loan, thereby giving me two years of breathing space.
At about the same time I again contacted Telstra’s fault centre in Hamilton to find out what, if anything, Telstra was doing about the continuing phone problems at Cape Bridgewater. As usual I got the run-around but I was finally informed that a new exchange, about to be installed at Cape Bridgewater, would alleviate all the problems I had suffered in the past. Some four years later, as a result of an FOI request, I acquired a copy of a three-page, hand-written file note dated 15/8/91 which covers the discussions I had with Telstra regarding these faults. The date doesn’t correlate with my own records because I knew early in 1991 that Telstra were installing a new exchange and I had, in fact, told Karen, early in 1991, that this improvement would solve the phone problems and assure us of a bright future. This file note stated however
“Alan Smith rang 15/8/91 re service 267 267. Incoming callers are receiving engaged signal when it’s not engaged — two calls from Collingwood PM 14/8/91.
This has been a continuing problem and he is losing a lot of business.
I said it appears from the fault history that the problem may be in the exchange and that the next RCM exchange 21/8 would solve these problems but that I would check this out with the techs. (refer Glossary for definition of RCM)
I also said we would have a look at the service now to try and get it working correctly until cutover.”
This note goes on later to say:
“I rang Alan Smith 15/8/91 and explained that we believed the problems were caused by — specific exchange faults due to the age, which would be solved by the cutover to Portland AXE ……”
At least someone in Telstra had given us something to hang on to. We looked forward to the installation of the new exchange in July 1991 although I continued to log another 46 faults and customer complaints between 16th March 1990 and cut-over day, which turned out to be 18th August 1991, not July as we had originally been told.
My relationship with Karen continued well as we worked together to attempt to pull the business out of the doldrums. Karen finally sold her house, raising a bit over $80,000, $65,000 of which went directly to pay my legal fees and to pay Faye most of what I owed her. It took me another 12 months to finally pay her out. Karen’s name was now officially on the title to my business.
Still, very few new bookings were coming in and the camp was now badly in need of some maintenance work. This created a flow-on effect: the business looked sad and bedraggled without the necessary painting and upgrading and so people who passed by were not interested in staying. Because they were not coming to stay there was no money to effect the repairs and no ‘word of mouth’ recommendations being passed on.
On those rare occasions when a school or club did manage to get through and book in, we had no cash flow and so we couldn’t get credit to buy even the necessary food to feed the clients when they arrived. The operational side of the business began to look even grimmer.
Karen and I began to argue just as Faye and I had earlier argued. Karen could see her investment fast going down the drain and she began to ask why I had not told her the truth. “It’s now twelve months since I moved here and nothing has changed — the phone faults are no better!”
During all this time I continued to sponsor under-privileged groups to stay at the camp. I arranged sponsored food purchases through the generosity of a number of commercial food outlets and these groups then just used the camp facilities — it didn’t actually cost me anything other than a small amount of electricity and gas. At one point around this time, May 1992, I had organised a charity week for kids from Ballarat and the South West, including Warrnambool, Hamilton and Portland. This group was organised by Sister Maureen Burke, IBVM, Principal of Loreto College in Ballarat and I am sure she would not be offended to know that I think of her as the ‘mother’ of the project.
Much of the organisation for this week, including arrangements regarding food, organising a bus to collect the children, decisions about where to collect the children and discussions about any special needs the children might have, had to be handled over the phone since Ballarat was a 3½ hour drive from Cape Bridgewater. Of course, Sister Burke had enormous problems trying to contact me because of the phone problems.
Finally, after trying all through one whole week, Monday through to Friday, Sister Burke decided to drive the 3½ hours to make the final arrangements.
At this same time Karen and I had also been attempting to organise a series of ‘get-away’ type holidays for ‘over-40s’ singles clubs. These plans were not going very successfully: the response to our ads had been very poor (or was it just that no-one could get through on the phone?).
On the Saturday that Sister Burke decided to drive to us, just as she finally arrived at the Camp, Karen took a phone call from a very irate man who wanted some information about the singles week-ends. This caller was very angry and quite abusive and Karen took the full brunt of his fury. He couldn’t understand why we were advertising a business but never answered the phone.
Karen burst into tears: this was just the final straw as far as she was concerned. I tried to make a joke of it to relieve the tension by saying something about the problems we have dealing with the public. Now, Karen was then, and still is, a fine ‘horse lady’. She rode in cross country races and played polo amongst other things; she’s not someone you cross unthinkingly. And she can sure pack a punch! I know, because she almost flattened me that day. Not only did my legs fold under me, but my ego went the same way. And Karen continued to sob. Right at that moment Sister Burke appeared in the office.
I decided that absence was the better part of valour and removed myself, leaving these two fine ladies together. Finally, quite sometime later, Sister Burke advised me that she thought Karen should leave Cape Bridgewater. It would be in the best interest of both of us, Sister Burke believed, and she would arrange counselling for Karen back in Warrnambool — here we go again, I thought.
The charity camp went ahead in April 1992; 35 children for five nights. It was a great success all round. While she was at the camp I asked Sister Burke to describe the phone faults she experienced in that dreadful week before Karen left. She referred to calls either ringing out or simply getting a dead line — no sound at all. And this happened for an entire week. Later I sent Sister Burke a very early draft copy of this book; after reading it she wrote back, saying
“Only I know from personal experience that your story is true, I would find it difficult to believe.”
It is interesting to note here that, twelve months later, in March of 1993, Sister Karen Donnellon, also from Loreto College, also tried to make contact to arrange an annual camp. Sister Donnellon later wrote
“During a one week period in March of this year I attempted to contact Mr Alan Smith at Bridgewater Camp. In that time I tried many times to phone through.
Each time I dialled I was met with a line that was blank. Even after several re-dials there was no response. I then began to vary the times of calling but it made no difference.”
Twelve months had passed and still there was no improvement to the phone system, even with a new exchange installed in Cape Bridgewater.
Back in May of 1992 however, we could not know, of course, that the stress created by the faulty phone system would continue for so long.
Karen was hospitalised as a result of this stress added to the worry that she would lose her investment in my business. She had come to believe that I had lied to her when I reassured her that the phone problems were over. I later learned not to believe anything I was told by Telstra.
After she left the hospital, Karen settled in a rented house in Portland. Without her assistance at the camp, which had, in the past, given me space to travel around, my promotional tours to schools dropped to almost nil. Still I continued to complain to Telstra about the phone faults which seemed to me to be getting worse, not better, since the old exchange had been demolished and replaced. From August 1991 through to May of 1992 more and more complaints of recorded voice announcements came in.
Again I began to question my decisions. Why had this move to Cape Bridgewater been so disastrous? Everyone takes a working phone as a given, but a faulty phone system had now ruined three lives; mine, Faye’s and Karen’s and, indirectly, my two children’s as well.
In July of 1992 I spoke to the proprietor of O’Meara Bus Company regarding proposed arrangements for his buses to bring elderly groups to my camp on a regular basis. Mr O’Meara had, of course, suffered severe difficulties trying to reach me by phone and he was concerned that this would become an insurmountable problem. As he saw it, each of the groups would need to ring me direct to confirm their bookings. What if they couldn’t get through either? he asked. And so, without mentioning the name of the bus company, I wrote to Telstra to ask them to provide me with a written guarantee, stating that my phone service was up to network standard. Naturally, I intended to pass this guarantee on to Mr O’Meara.
At about the same time, Karen mentioned a friend who had heard of someone in Melbourne who was complaining about the same phone problems that were crippling my business. Karen said her friend believed this was the proprietor of “The Society” restaurant in Bourke Street, in the centre of the city.
Of course, making phone contact with the restaurant was enormously difficult, but eventually, I got through to Sheila Hawkins, who ran the restaurant. We arranged to meet and I travelled to Melbourne.
Sheila was also very interested in gathering a group together to tackle Telstra head-on. She already knew of an Ann Garms in Brisbane who ran the Tivoli Theatre Restaurant there and who was also having serious phone problems.
Armed with this knowledge I rang Ann and, as it happened, Ann was coming to Melbourne the following week. It was arranged that, while she was here, Ann would meet with the General Manager of Consumer Affairs for Austel, the Australian Telecommunications Regulator, and with Sheila.
Sheila, Ann and I had an enthusiastic meeting and Ann mentioned that she knew of at least one other Brisbane business that was in similar trouble with phones — a Japanese car spare-parts company run by Maureen Gillen. Like Ann’s business, Maureen’s business was also trunked off the Fortitude Valley Exchange.
By this time Sheila had contacted Graham Schorer who ran the Golden Courier Service out of North Melbourne. Like the rest of us, Graham had a very bad phone service. Finally our little group gathered together at the Society Restaurant in Bourke St, except for Maureen who couldn’t make the journey from Brisbane.
During the following week I spoke to Sheila a couple of times on her mobile, ringing while she was on her way in to her office. It was Sheila who suggested we call ourselves C.O.T. — the Casualties of Telstra. We were on our way down the path to justice, or so we thought. Unfortunately, our battle had only just begun.
I still don’t know how I managed to drag myself through the last few months of 1992, but I did. And now the lies and corporate cover-up perpetrated by Telstra began to be exposed.
In October of 1992, at the Ibis Hotel in Melbourne, the COT group had our first official meeting with Telstra, presenting a united front of small-business telephone users.
Austel was now involved, concerned at some of the facts that the COT group were unearthing in relation to Telstra. We were seen, not just as a group of hot-heads, out to make trouble, but as a concerned group of small-business people who had been continually squashed and ignored by Telstra. Finally, we felt that our claims were being taken seriously and were being seen as valid.
Also at this time, July/August 1992, I lodged the first of many FOI requests for documents to be supplied by Telstra. A letter dated 2nd July 1992, from a Mr Taylor (part of Telstra’s management team based at the Warrnambool exchange) stated however that Telstra had ‘no past fault records prior to June 27, 1991’. It later became quite apparent that documented fault records DID exist in Telstra’s archives, dating back as far as 1987 and continuing for many years after that. What else could be lurking in these archives, I wonder?
On 1st September 1992 the first Telstra ‘guarantee’ arrived, stating that my phone service was indeed ‘up to network standard’. Sixteen days later another ‘guarantee’ arrived, this one dated 18 September 1992. The ‘guarantee’ of the 1st stated:
“Whilst our recent tests indicate that your service is now performing to normal network standards, I am initiating a further detailed study of all the elements of your service and the tests which have been conducted.”
The ‘guarantee’ of the 18th stated:
“We believe that the quality of your service can be guaranteed and although it would be impossible to suggest that there would never be a service problem we could see no reason why this should be a factor in your business endeavours.”
Because of the delay between my initial request and the provision of these belated ‘guarantees’, I had already missed out on securing the charter business with O’Meara’s Bus Lines. Later however, these documents became more important as we uncovered the extent of the skulduggery at management level within Telstra.
While visiting the camp, a local Telstra technician casually remarked that it was well known that congestion was a problem in my area. His attitude seemed to be that this was something country people just had to learn to cope with. I thought it seemed to be a very strange way of looking at the problem, particularly since my business was ‘going down the tubes’ fast. Why should I have to put up with a faulty phone service simply because I ran a country business?
During an FOI release in mid-1994 I came across four interesting documents which all related to this congestion problem. The ‘minute’ document titled “Subject PORTLAND – CAPE BRIDGEWATER PCM HBER” and the document marked as FOI no. A40558 are of particular interest. The second paragraph of the first document contains the statement:
“ When the ‘A’ direction of system 2 was initially tested, 11,000 errors per hour were measured. In the ‘B’ direction, approximately 216 errors per hour were measured, 72 errors per hour is the specified number allowable.”
In other words, back in July of 1991, Telstra were uncovering 11,000 errors per hour in one direction and 216 per hour in the other direction when the acceptable level in the telecommunications industry is 72 errors per hour. Furthermore, document A40558 states, in part:
“i) LTS Melbourne were aware of the problem in early 1990 as optocouple measurements were documented on file dated 13/02/90 (ref P 34)
iii) Tong advises me that to his knowledge LTS Melbourne did not circulate any information on the problem until the work specification was finalised in October 1990.
- iv) The Cape Bridgewater loop MUX was up graded between July and December 1991 after it was removed from the Cape Bridgewater link.
- v) The Cape Bridgewater customer had documented complaints of call dropouts from 12/1989 to 12/1992 the later date some 7 months xx after xx the A735 loop MUX had been replaced by the RCM
The question remains – why did it take one year for the Cape Bridgewater Loop Mux to be upgraded from the issue of the Work Spec. Tong says the OIC of Portland believes that the equipment was not touched prior to the upgrade.”
Obviously the technicians were uncovering faults and problems with the Cape Bridgewater phone system as far back as at least 1990, probably as a result of my continual badgering of them, but I was being told one thing while Telstra knew another. Here I was, with a business ‘bleeding to death’ and without any treatment available to stop the ‘bleeding’. If the business wasn’t bleeding, it certainly felt as if I was.
The third of these four interesting documents was titled “Portland — Cape Bridgewater — RCM System” and it stated, in part:
“Initial reports were of a vocal customer at Cape Bridgewater complaining of VF – cutoffs in one direction. The customer had been transferred off system 1 onto system 2 and 3 on the 24th February ‘93 and had experienced no further problems.”
I must admit that my sense of humour did manage to fight to the surface for a moment when I read this — ‘vocal customer’ indeed! Maybe this is why my voice has lost its customary strength. The interesting point is, of course, the reference to switching the ‘vocal customer’ from system 1 to systems 2 and 3. Since Telstra were aware of this problem when I complained, first in 1988 and again in 1990/91, of 11,000 errors per hour in one direction and 216 per hour in the other direction, why didn’t this changeover take place then?
As if this all wasn’t disturbing enough, in a letter dated 12th July 1993, the following information refers to 2 March 1993, 19 months after Telstra discovered the massive fault rates recorded above.
| “Initial error counter readings
Portland to Cape Bridgewater direction:-
|System 1||System 2||System 3|
|At this stage we had no idea over what period of time these errors had accumulated.
Attempts to test the inground repeaters using the “TRIOS” system where unsuccessful as the strapping records could not be located.”
The two FOI documents on the following pages show that thousands of errors continued to plague my service. It seemed nothing had changed – just more excuses from Telstra’s Corporate Management.
It is interesting to note the reference “we had no idea over what period of time these errors had accumulated” because the second page of this document states:
“The alarm system on all three RCM systems had not been programmed. This would have prevented any local alarms being extended back to Portland.”
In other words, they didn’t know how long these errors had been accumulating because, from 18 August 1991, when the new exchange (RCM) was installed at Cape Bridgewater, the fault alarm system had not been connected up. Since this was an un-manned exchange, this meant that no-one would know when a fault or faults occurred. Except, of course, the poor, defenceless customers.
This ‘not connected’ alarm was not discovered until March 1993 but, in September / October of 1992, Telstra senior management had written to me stating that they believed that the quality of my telephone service could be guaranteed as up to network standard when, just 5 kms down the road from my business, the exchange continued to accumulate errors with no alarms going off at the ‘manned’ Portland exchange. What a farce!
No wonder my ‘could-have-been-thriving’ business was sinking so fast. It seems like most of the local telephone technicians were oblivious to the continuing resultant call loss due to this ‘not connected’ alarm system in the exchange.
Here I was, scratching the bottom of the financial barrel, selling off anything I had left that was saleable to keep going and buy food for the next group that had managed to get through to make a booking because many schools and other groups do not pay up-front when they make their booking.
Meanwhile, until a group actually paid their bill, I had no money to pay my catering costs or wages. I was now borrowing from friends just to keep the camp running on a day to day basis. Karen, with three children to think about, was devastated by her financial losses and had lost all faith in my judgement. I had lost faith in my own judgement by this time too; I had now let down two different partners who had trusted me. Through all of this, of course, the phone faults continued and the useless ‘guarantees’ supplied by Telstra sat on my desk, a continual reminder that they had arrived too late: I had lost the charter with the bus line.
The COT group continued to negotiate with Austel and Telstra and this pressure finally produced results: Telstra approached me with a proposal for a compensation payout which was to include a confidentiality agreement to the effect that I would not disclose the value of any settlement which might be forthcoming as a result of this. I signed this agreement on 11th December 1992 and I have honoured this agreement not to disclose the amount of the payout without prior approval by Telstra.
That same day, Telstra’s area general manager and I were involved in a long discussion regarding what Telstra believed I had lost, financially, over the preceding 4½ years since I first complained about the phones. This manager and I were the only people involved in this discussion. I provided her with copies of numerous letters I had received from clients and trades-people, describing their experiences with my phones. I clearly explained how much I had calculated my losses to be. On a number of occasions the manager left me alone to examine documents she had given me. As she left on the first occasion, she explained that she would close the door so I could read in private and she added that, if I needed to discuss anything with my advisors I was free to use the telephone; there was a direct outside line available at all times so I wouldn’t need to speak to an operator within the building. I made use of the phone a couple of times to ring Karen and talk over the offer and we calculated how much she needed to buy herself a relocatable house to set up as her home, thereby at least partly restoring her to a financial position similar to her position before she met me.
The documents provided by the manager were mostly hand-written and included copies of the so-called ‘guarantees’ that I had received. One of the hand-written documents stated that there had only been a single fault, lasting for 3 weeks, and causing the RVA message to be heard by incoming callers (this was the message stating that my number was not connected). This document also stated that the RVA message probably caused me to lose about 50% of all incoming calls over this 3 week period. Other documents referred to one minor fault in the phone exchange at Heywood plus some other minor faults which may have contributed to some call loss. Telstra agreed to accept responsibility for these ‘minor’ faults, without admitting to anything in writing, if I agreed to their offer.
Naturally I protested. Again I went over the continuing and constant complaints I was getting from customers and I asked how a few ‘minor’ problems could possibly cause so many difficulties. I had nothing to bargain with however and the manager simply took a ‘take it or leave it’ position, commenting that this was Telstra’s last offer and advising me that the only other avenue I could follow would be court proceedings. Her final comment was along the lines of ‘Telstra has more time than you have money to fund court proceedings.’ These wonderful customer relations, I believed, left with me no other option and so, finally, and with some regret, I accepted their ‘final offer’.
Later, during 1994, I was provided with a copy of a document which shows that, while out of the meeting room, this same area general manager had made notes regarding our discussions, including a reference to the fact that I had rung my advisors on a number of occasions while she was out of the room. If the phone line I was using was a direct line to the outside, how did she know whether I used it or not? And how could she know who I rang if I did use the phone? I have since, unsuccessfully, asked Telstra to explain this on a number of occasions. This issue has also been raised with the Senate and with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO – refer Glossary). So far there has been no satisfactory answer. The questions remains: were my private phone discussions that day listened to by someone and is this how the manager knew exactly how much to offer me, because she had heard the discussions I had with Karen regarding the cost of buying her a relocatable house?
Pages 111 and 112 show that Telstra officials later provided the Australian Federal Police with documents which confirmed that Telstra had listened to my private and business phone conversations (called ‘voice monitoring’) for some time. Was this one of those occasions when Telstra people were listening in?
These ‘secret’ Telstra documents relate to the so-called ‘guarantees’ that I had received from Telstra. The last item included in point 4 of the document numbered C04006 refers to “RVA on congestion” This RVA was, as previously mentioned, the message indicating that my phone had been disconnected. Also, during 1993, Austel confirmed that Telstra’s ‘congestion’ tone was very similar to an engaged tone and, unless you were aware of the difference (and most people certainly wouldn’t be aware of the difference) callers would believe they were hearing an engaged signal when they were actually hearing a ‘congested’ signal. Because the local Cape Bridgewater exchange was such old technology with so few lines, of course it was congested — it was probably nearly always congested! This meant that it was quite likely that many prospective customers gave up trying to reach me because they believed I had ceased trading. No wonder I didn’t have many new bookings.
At point 16, on the page numbered C04007, there is a reference to “… —
Mr Smith’s service problems were network related and spanned a period of 3 – 4 years.”
and then, on the page numbered C04008 another reference
“Overall, Mr Smith’s telephone service had suffered from poor grade of network performance over a period of several years; with some difficulty to detect exchange problems in the last 8 months.”
According to the hand-written, note at the bottom of C04008, signed by the area general manager I had dealt with before, “These are preparational notes recorded at the time of settlement. Alan Smith was not prepared to provide better substantiation of his claim.” This seems to me to indicate that the writer was quite clear, in her own mind, about the severity of the faults I had suffered and, since she obviously already knew of the “poor grade of network performance” spanning “a period of 3 – 4 years”, how could she possibly have provided the two guarantees that I received three months before this? This is even more astounding because document C04008 also states “with some difficulty to detect exchange problems in the last 8 months”. This means that the ‘difficulty to detect’ the problems dated back at least to April of 1992. As a responsible corporate senior manager, how did this person ever allow the two ‘guarantees’ to leave her office?
The information in this document is interesting, bearing in mind the two ‘guarantees’ of September 1992, and the fact that Telstra knew that at least one fault had been occurring for 8 months.
Although I had the ‘guarantees’, I continued to complain about the faulty phone service, particularly call-drop-outs when, part-way through a conversation, the line would simply go dead, and about short duration rings when the phone would ring once or twice and then stop — with no-one there if we picked up the receiver. Finally, in October of 1992, the area general manager arranged for two testing machines (called ‘Elmi’ machines – refer Glossary) to be installed; one at the local un-manned exchange at Cape Bridgewater and another at my office. These two machines were set up to work in conjunction with each other.
On 13th October I complained of four calls that had dropped out, at 1.20, 1.40, 2.00 and 3.00 and a single time when I had answered the phone to find a dead-line. The Telstra technicians found, as they had in many instances before, no faults that they could detect.
I continued to work at getting my business running successfully and, at the same time, kept trying to sort out the continuing phone problems.
Two years later, in 1994, as part of a bundle of documents sent to me in response to one of my FOI requests, I discovered two documents relating to the problems I had encountered on 13 October 1992. The first was a hand-written file note stating
“We had the Elmi disconnected at the RCM (exchange) and were installing it at Mr Smith’s house and the CCAS showed no evidence of above (not receiving ring) 1.20, 1.40, 2.00 and 3.00.” (refer Glossary for definition of CCAS)
The next step was to ask Telstra, through FOI, to supply any ‘Elmi’ print-outs they had from September/October 1992. Some weeks after this request was lodged a number of documents arrived which I found quite alarming, including the tapes reproduced on the previous page, which show that the call drop outs and dead lines that I had experienced appeared on Telstra’s monitoring equipment records as answered calls at 13.29.25 (approximately 1.30pm) and 15.01.11 (approximately 3pm).
The issues surrounding the ‘Elmi’ incident become even more alarming and one question that has never been satisfactorily answered is: Why would a local technician state that the ‘Elmi’ equipment was disconnected at the exchange and was to be installed at my house when it is clear from these two ‘Elmi’ print-outs that it was actually installed and operating correctly at both locations?
All this obviously brings Telstra’s fault centre into question. How accurate are their records and how often are complaints like mine ignored by Telstra?
By this stage of the battle, with two partners lost and my health deteriorating, my business began to suffer even more. Why would no-one listen to what the members of COT had to say? Why would no-one look at all the information we had collected between us?
The members of COT continued to draw strength from each other. We had many group discussions as we tried to find a satisfactory way to deal with the deception of Telstra management but we were, after all, simply five small-business people struggling against the might of a huge corporation. Not very good odds!
As we struggled from the end of 1992 to the New Year of 1993 I began to wonder if ‘settling’ with Telstra (via the area general manager) had been such a good idea after all. Nothing had changed. Phone faults continued to run rampant with my attempts to keep the business going. How could this be still continuing? The new telephone exchange was supposed to have rectified all the problems I was suffering.
During January 1993 I registered eight more faults with Telstra. Those customers who had managed to get through to place their bookings were also experiencing phone faults when they arrived at the camp. The coin-operated gold phone unit in the main hall, installed for customer’s use, became the butt of continual jokes. “Why bother to go to NSW to play the pokies?” the customers joked, “We can just come here and get the same result with the gold phone: it takes our money, gives either no service at all or very little value for money, and leaves us as frustrated as if we had gambled away our cash.” Calls continually drop out, they complained, as soon as they said “Hello”.
According to my records, two of the eight complaints lodged in January 1993 were related to the gold phone.
By this stage my mortgage payments were causing a huge headache. I had been forced to re-finance through the Commonwealth Development Bank, incurring more set-up fees, and because I couldn’t afford to maintain the camp buildings properly the place was beginning to look abandoned. I felt as if I had been abandoned too. Both the buildings and I were tired, run-down and in need of a face lift!
Ann Garms and Graham Schorer had, by now, become ‘comrades in arms’ in this war we were fighting. We wondered if we could ever be in a position to expose Telstra’s unethical corporate strategies and their continued and apparently deliberate mis-handling of our complaints. Ann had also begun to suspect that, on the rare occasions that our phones actually worked properly, the lines were being bugged.
The first experience I had of the possibility that my phone was bugged came after the COT group had been on “A Current Affair”, a news show on Channel 9, a national TV channel. This was our first experience of an interview situation and we soon discovered that we were novices at this process. We had a lot of technical information to back our legitimate complaints about phone faults and to support our attempt to organise a Senate hearing into our cases but, because of our inexperience at putting our case, this is not quite how it came across on the show. Because our information was so highly technical it was a bit like trying to prove that a patient has cancer without actually having a biopsy or an x-ray.
Because we were so disappointed at how our case came across on Channel 9, I rang the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in Melbourne to speak to the co-ordinator of their “Four Corners” show, in an attempt to get another chance to tell our story to the Australian public. I was told that the person I needed to speak to was based in their Sydney office (I believe his name was Knight) and that my call would be transferred to him. I was quickly connected and proceeded to describe what had happened with ”A Current Affair” and to explain that I thought a more in-depth investigation of our situation by a program like “Four Corners” would expose Telstra’s incorrect charging as well as the problems with their fault reporting system, thereby alerting the rest of Telstra’s customers.
After I had babbled on for quite a while, I referred to the co-ordinator by name, only to be told the person I was speaking to was not “Mr Knight”, but John Stanton. Furthermore, Mr Stanton was not with the ABC “Four Corners” show either. He was not even with the ABC at all. He was, in fact, a senior executive with Telstra, based in Telstra House in Sydney.
“How can this be?” I asked, “The ABC in Melbourne switched me directly through to their Sydney office.”
Mr Stanton paused for about 20 seconds and then confirmed that he had indeed patched into my phone line even though I was connected elsewhere. He then suggested that he would set up a meeting with the members of COT, if we so wished.
So, with Ann already worrying about her phones being bugged from some time in 1992, I now had been through the same experience.
It is interesting to note the date of 19/08/92 on the first of these two documents relating to Ann Garms’s business, The Tivoli Theatre Restaurant: this is about the same time as the COT group was first formed.
In the comment at point 19, “Description: Line 1 NDT NRR suspect sabotage ?????” the ‘NRR’ refers to ‘not receiving ring’ and, at the bottom of the document, at points 1, 2 and 3, the comments are even more interesting and will be covered more fully in Chapter 18.The second document, with the number B00474 in the lower right corner (see following page), also relates to Ann’s business and raises a number of other questions. Who are these people discussing in this letter? Does the reference to “Compass Security” refer to Compass Airlines who were linked to the same exchange as Ann, in Fortitude Valley? Compass Airlines was a small airline company which tried to break into the system in Australia and finally went bankrupt. The owner of the airline stated that one of the reasons for the company never ‘getting off the ground’ was continual problems with phones and it was widely speculated in the media at the time that some form of sabotage had been involved. This document certainly doesn’t do anything to dispel that rumour.
Another question that this document raises is why a ‘bug scanning device’ was requested by AA (whoever that is) of protective services?
After reading these two documents it is easy to understand how Ann and I felt every time we used the telephone. Who was listening to us and why?
Graham Schorer was elected as spokesperson for COT and, early in 1993, he met with the then chairman of Austel, Mr Robin Davey. By February / March of that same year, following that meeting, a number of politicians had become interested in our situation. The question remained, would these politicians actually take any action on behalf of small-business people, or would they protect the ‘milking cow’ of the Telstra corporation?
So the COT group began their push to get the Australian Senate to pay attention to our plight, providing the finance from our already depleted own pockets for travel to and from Canberra, where the seat of power is located.
At this stage I was still suffering from major problems with the phone system although, through some fancy footwork with the banks I had at least managed to stave off a repossession order.
As a result of all the pressure, Karen had become a born-again Christian. Would her prayers be answered though? I knew she was asking for help for us all in our ongoing fight for justice but would Telstra’s true colours ever be exposed? Their power over the Senate was becoming more and more apparent to us and we were afraid they would have enough control to put a lid on the whole saga.
By now I had accumulated more than seventy separate letters of complaint from customers who had been unable to reach me by phone. One of these, dated 5/2/93, came from a Mrs Elsie Teer of the Werribee Outreach Centre in Victoria, writing to say that they would have to cancel their booking because of ‘poor membership response’. Mrs Teer also noted that she had tried to ring me over the last five days but that ‘it appears that you don’t answer your phone’.
I later received a letter dated 17/5/93 from Ray Morris, a senior Telstra technical engineer. Mr Morris wrote regarding his own experience of trying to ring me, stating:
“On the 24/2/93 I received a phone call from a technician at Portland who stated he had been given a fault from (1100 fault dept.) indicating a customer in Ballarat had trouble calling your business 055 267 267 – I then attempted to ring 055 267 267 myself, the ring was tripped after several bursts ie: “answered” and I received a loud noise similar to a radio carrier noise and a very faint ‘Hello’.
At least someone inside Telstra acknowledged that I had a problem with the phone service!
The really significant point to Mr Morris’s letter (see next page) however is not just his recognition of the problems I had. On 12/12/94 Mr Morris made a Witness Statement, in the form of a Statutory Declaration witnessed by a lawyer. This Witness Statement was used by Telstra as part of their defence of my arbitration (refer Glossary). There is no mention of Mr Morris’s own experience with my phone anywhere in this Witness Statement.
Mr Morris appeared to be more than just a little concerned about my complaints during the time he was involved in these investigations. Perhaps he was pressured to stay quiet during my arbitration — who knows? What is apparent from a number of FOI documents is that not all Telstra engineers or technicians treated our complaints as genuine, as the following example shows.
The official spokesperson for COT is Graham Schorer and, on one occasion I phoned Telstra’s 1100 number to report difficulty in getting through to him on the phone even though he has thirty-seven lines in to his courier business. I spoke to a Mr Richards at Telstra; he advised that he would immediately have Mr Schorer’s lines tested. Some months later I came across FOI document K00045. In this document, Mr Richards has made a hand-written note to the effect that, once it ‘clicked’ that this was a COT member, the service was not tested.
In a second, similar incident, I have an un-numbered FOI document regarding a complaint I lodged about my own phone service, this time to a Mr Watson. Mr Watson’s hand-written notes state:
“Probably caused by ‘RCM’. No need to investigate, spoke with Bruce, he said not to investigate also.”
Either Telstra had decided that the members of COT were fools or their fault center knew that the faults we were reporting were common faults which could not easily be rectified and so they had decided to ignore our complaints rather than attempt to fix the problem.
In the first five months of 1993 I received another eleven written complaints, including letters from the Children’s Hospital and the Prahran Secondary College in Melbourne. The faults had now plagued my business, unabated, from April 1988 to mid 1993.
Coming into June of 1993 things began to warm up for COT: the then Shadow Minister for Communications, the Hon. Senator Richard Alston, was showing an interest in our claims and Senator Ron Boswell of the National Party, who obviously had no political gain in mind, became involved also. Even though Senator Boswell is based in Queensland and most of the remaining members of COT are in Victoria, at the other end of the country, he has continued to offer his support.
David Hawker MP, my local parliamentary member was another who saw his ‘duty of care’ to his constituents and so answered our call for help. Mr Hawker has continued to go into battle on our behalf for ten years now.
During political campaigning through June of 1993 both Senator Alston and Senator Boswell pushed for a Senate Inquiry into our claims and, I have recently been told by an ex-Telstra employee, they were so close to pulling it off that it was not funny. If this Senate Inquiry had got off the ground, heads in Telstra would have rolled but, since this didn’t happen, those same ‘heads’ continue to control Telstra to this day.
While the politicians and Telstra conducted their deals behind closed doors, I continued to lobby Austel for assistance and, between February and June of 1993, I provided Austel with more and more evidence of incorrect charging on my 1800 free call service and all the other lines servicing my business. Finally John MacMahon, General Manager, Consumer Affairs at Austel asked me to record all the short duration calls and RVA’s that were still being charged to my 1800 account and which were also showing up on the ‘Elmi’ testing machine which had been installed at the local exchange.
You will see as you get further into this story that there is clear proof of already existing technology which allows faxes to be diverted, printed off and redirected without the sender’s knowledge or permission. If faxes can be diverted in this way then it is not a huge jump to assume that phone calls can also be secretly diverted, although phone calls would have to terminate at the phone they were diverted to, of course. Were all these short duration calls that I was continually receiving actually calls which began to ring at my business and were then caught and diverted to another number? In the early days, it didn’t even occur to me that this could be the explanation. Now that this saga is so much further ‘down the track’ however, it seems to be a very likely scenario. If I am right, what are the ramifications for other telephone subscribers?
(This diversion of calls is discussed in more detail on page 177.)
Not only were Austel involved in the saga by this time, but we were also dealing with the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Office as well, so both these organisations were aware that I continued to ask Telstra, under the rules of FOI, to provide me with copies of the ‘Elmi’ data from the RCM that the camp was connected to, for the period of May to July 1993. It is now 5 years since my first request for this data and all I have so far received is information covering a single 6-day period during May of 1993, which I came by accidentally.
As a result of my constant complaints to Austel regarding the many phone faults I had suffered with, including the incorrect charging, Telstra’s ‘Network Investigations’ department were finally involved and, for the very first time in this saga, Telstra investigators were sent to Cape Bridgewater. At last, or so I thought, I would be able to speak directly to people who knew what they were talking about. At last, or so I thought, I was getting somewhere.
THE “BRIEFCASE SAGA”
Dave Stockdale and Hugh Macintosh of Telstra’s National Network Investigation Division arrived at my office on 3 June 1993, with what later transpired to be a briefcase full of magic tricks. We spent some considerable time ‘dancing around’ my summary of the phone problems I had been complaining about, with little input from Stockdale and Macintosh and with more and more anger and frustration on my part. Finally they prepared to leave and head back to town. My own transport was, by this time, long gone: sold to pay some of my mounting debts, and so Stockdale and Macintosh offered me a lift. Along the way they stopped briefly at the local exchange at Cape Bridgewater where Stockdale took a tape from what I later learned was one of Telstra’s ‘Elmi’ machines. Then he replaced it with a new tape which he threaded into place.
After spending some time in Portland I got a lift back to Cape Bridgewater with a neighbour. In my office I found that, lo and behold, Aladdin had left behind his treasures: The Briefcase Saga was about to unfold.
When I found that the briefcase was not locked, I opened it to find out who it belonged to and discovered that it belonged to Mr Macintosh. There was no phone number in the case that I could contact Mr Macintosh on directly so I was forced to wait until the next morning when I could ring my local exchange.
Imagine how I felt when the first thing I actually saw in the briefcase was a file titled “SMITH, CAPE BRIDGEWATER”. After five gruelling years fighting with Telstra and being told various lies along the way, here was possibly the truth, as seen from Telstra’s perspective. Some of the documents in this file were much too technical for me to understand or interpret. Some of those that I could decipher however dated back to the ex-gratia compensation payment I received on 11 December 1992. Then I froze. I had turned the page to be confronted with the words “Problem 1”.
This document referred to Telstra being aware that the alleged three-week RVA fault in March of 1992 had actually lasted for ‘8 months’, not the three weeks that I had been told on the day that I accepted the compensation pay-out. By hiding this information from me Telstra deliberately misled me — this type of deception, under these conditions, is illegal.
Dated 24/7/92, and with my phone number in the top right corner, this document refers to my complaint that people ringing me get an RVA “service disconnected” message with the “latest report” being dated 22/7/92 from Station Pier in Melbourne and a “similar fault reported” on 17/03/92. The final sentence reads: “Network investigation should have been brought in as fault has gone on for 8 months.”
The second document is a Telstra minute dated 2/7/92. This document shows that the local Telstra technicians believed my complaints were correct regarding the ‘service disconnected’ RVA on my line. Further, they also believed that the problem “is occurring in increasing numbers as more and more customers are connected…..”.
In November 1992, after I had received Telstra’s written guarantees stating that my service was up to network standard and just before the settlement arranged by Telstra’s area general manager, Don Lucas of Telstra also wrote to me confirming that the RVA fault had only lasted for three weeks and adding that it caused an average loss of 50% of calls during that time.
Now, on one hand we have Telstra reports that the RVA fault had only occurred for a single period of three weeks and we have other Telstra documents, including the report I found in this briefcase, reporting that the RVA fault had been in existence for 8 months and that the technicians believed I was correct. Which are we to believe?
Other pieces of alarming information uncovered in the briefcase were printout tapes from the ‘Elmi’ machine. These showed 29 short duration incoming calls to my service in May of 1993 alone. These lost calls could very well have been 29 different customers who couldn’t get through. Even worse, four of these calls, which never got through, were charged to my 1800 account! Later I was to provide this information to Austel.
As the weeks passed Austel became increasingly interested in what I had seen in this briefcase. A letter dated 3 August 1993, from Austel’s General Manager, Consumer Affairs to Telstra’s Group Manager – Regulator, Dennis Hambleton, is reproduced below. This letter indicates that Austel have requested an immediate copy of all the documents which were in this briefcase, and which have not already been forwarded to Austel.
I sent off a number of Statutory Declarations explaining what I had seen in the briefcase. Later Austel was told that they had all the information which was originally in the briefcase that was left at my office that day, however that was not correct. Late in 1994, among a late release of FOI documents, I learned that Austel had not been provided with some very sensitive material that had been in the briefcase.
After finding this document I sent a copy to the TIO’s (Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman – see Glossary) office with a covering letter explaining how important it was that Telstra had misled Austel into believing they had been given everything that had been in the briefcase.
Another letter also refers to documents in this briefcase. This letter, dated 27 August 1993, was written by Telstra’s Corporate Secretary, Jim Holmes, to me. In this letter Mr Holmes states:
“Although there is nothing in these documents to cause Telstra any concern in respect of your case, the documents remain Telstra’s property and therefore are confidential to us.
I would appreciate it if you could return any documents from the briefcase still in your possession as soon as possible.”
Mr Holmes carefully omitted any reference to vital evidence which was withheld from me during their negotiations with me regarding compensation. The information in this briefcase proved that senior Telstra management had deceived and misled me during these negotiations and, at the same time, provided letters stating that the phone system to my business was up to network standard when the information in the briefcase clearly proved that it was certainly nowhere near ‘up to standard’.
On June 17 1993 the General Manager of Telstra Commercial, Victoria/Tasmania, wrote the following confidential internal memo to the Manager of Network Investigations.
Quite clearly this indicates that not only was Telstra’s area general manager fully aware, at the time of my settlement on 11 December 1992, that she was providing me with incorrect information, but the General Manager, Commercial Victoria/Tasmania was also aware of this deception — a deception which seriously influenced my judgement of the situation.
Misleading and deceptive conduct such as this, in a commercial settlement such as mine, is a direct contravention of the Australian Trade Practices Act but this issue is yet another which has not yet been addressed by Telstra. Even more alarming, the arbitrator handed down his award on 11 May 1995 without questioning Telstra’s unethical behaviour even though I raised this issue in my claim documents, pointing out that Telstra had knowingly deceived me at this settlement meeting, thereby placing me at a commercial disadvantage.
In another letter dated 8 June 1993, Austel’s John MacMahon explains to Telstra that I had complained of continuing phone faults, even after the ‘settlement’. Mr MacMahon goes on to say:
“Further he claims that the Telecom documents contain network investigation findings which are distinctly different from the advice which Telecom has given to the customers concerned.
In summary, these allegations, if true, would suggest that in the context of the settlement Mr Smith was provided with a misleading description of the situation as the basis for making his decision. They would also suggest that the other complainants identified in the folders have knowingly been provided with inaccurate information
I ask for your urgent comment on these allegations. You are asked to immediately provide AUSTEL with a copy of all the documentation which was apparently inadvertently left at Mr Smith’s premises for its inspection. This, together with your comment, will enable me to arrive at an appropriate recommendation for AUSTEL’s consideration of any action it should take.
As to Mr Smith’s claimed continuing service difficulties, please provide a statement as to whether Telecom believes that Mr Smith has been provided with a telephone service of normal network standard since the settlement. If not, you are asked to detail the problems which Telecom knows to exist, indicate how far beyond network standards they are and identify the cause/causes of these problems.
In light of Mr Smith’s claims of continuing service difficulties, I will be seeking to determine with you a mechanism which will allow an objective measurement of any such difficulties to be made.”
It seems that Austel’s concern regarding the sensitive information I had originally found in this briefcase was warranted!
Back in April of 1993 I had become so concerned about what was going on in the Telstra Corporation and what sort of devastating effect this corporate thuggery could well be having on other small businesses around the country, that I had phoned Malcolm Fraser, ex-Prime Minister of Australia. I told Mr Fraser about the information I was uncovering and how I was finding not only phone faults but also misleading and deceptive commercial conduct which appeared to contravene the Trade Practices Act.
By this time a number of articles had appeared in my local newspaper and interstate gossip about the COT group was beginning to grow. As a result of this Julian Cress from the Channel Nine ‘Sixty Minutes’ program attempted to contact me. This fax speaks for itself.
Also by this time, June of 1993, the public were becoming interested in what they were hearing about our battle.
At Camp Bridgewater, we acquired a logo specially for the over-40s singles club which we were calling “The Country Get-A-Ways” and I hit the road with a vengeance, marketing a range of different week-end holidays. We had organised an outdoor canoe weekend, a walking and river cruise along the Glenelg River and a Saturday Dress-up Dinner Dance with a disco as well as a trip to the Coonawarra Wineries in South Australia and a Saturday morning shopping tour to Mt Gambier, also in South Australia. This meant we were able to market the holidays in both Victoria and South Australia.
A special feature in the Melbourne Age Newspaper gave the project a great write-up and I began to feel things were finally looking up for the camp. My spirits rose, at least temporarily. Then another plummet into despair: on 26 October a fax arrived from Cathine, a relative of the journalist who had written the Age feature:
“Alan, I have been trying to call you since midday. I have rung seven times to get an engaged signal. It is now 2.45 pm.”
Cathine had been ringing on my 1800 free-call line. My spirits sank right back down again.
Later in this saga I checked this fax against Telstra’s own CCAS data for that day. Telstra’s records show one call at 12:01, lasting for 6 minutes and another call at 12:18.14, lasting for 8 minutes. There were no incoming calls at all between 12.30 and 2.44 that day. Where had Cathine’s calls been going? I was devastated but I decided not to let the bastards get me down. Their continuing lies and assertions that they had found no faults on my service line must be exposed.
So, I stepped up the marketing of the camp and the singles-club week-ends, calling on numerous recognised social clubs around the Melbourne metropolitan area and talking personally to the people in charge. Over the next few weeks I spoke to the Phoenix Social Club in Camberwell, the Australian Social Centre in Hartwell, Frenze-In-Deed in Mont Albert and Capers in Knox City. I also visited other singles organisations in Ballarat and Warrnambool, large country centres in Victoria.
Further newspaper advertising followed with ads placed with the Leader Newspaper group in Melbourne. This local newspaper group covers 23 different metropolitan areas around Melbourne. Ads also went into the local newspapers for a number of large regional centres around Victoria and South Australia, including the Geelong Advertiser, the Warrnambool Standard, the Ballarat Courier News, the Horsham Wimmera Times, the Colac Local News, the Mt Gambier-Border Watch etc.
Complaints about the phones continued. People had so much trouble getting through to the camp and although some obviously persevered, God knows how many simply gave up trying.
The two letters in appendix 6 show the less-than-enthusiastic response from Telstra when the Deputy TIO attempted to extract from them an explanation of entries missing from the White Pages telephone directory in 1993. These entries were specifically for my Country Get-a-way Singles Club holidays and I went ahead with an extensive advertising campaign, unaware that the entries were not in the telephone books. I now wonder if there is more to these missing entries than meets the eye because, if there was a simple, above-board reason for my advertisements being left out of 18 major phone directories then why has Telstra never offered an explanation? As the Deputy TIO says in his letter of 29/3/96, he believed his office would simply “be flogging a dead horse trying to extract more” from Telstra on this matter.
One Saturday evening a couple of Scotches left me in tears of complete frustration. I knew I was easily capable of running the camp as I pictured it but I was trapped, like a rabbit in car headlights, with no way to turn. It was a vicious merry-go-round. Without customers I would go broke quickly and the customers couldn’t reach me because the phones didn’t work. Right then Graham Schorer, the COT spokesperson, rang. He kept urging me to hang in there, convinced that we would win out in the end. Later, even Ann Garms, who is usually so strong and determined, broke down over the phone, crying that it was impossible to go on. This time it was my turn to be strong; “Hang in there, Ann.” I told her, “We’ll beat the bastards yet, you’ll see.”
The process became even more of a roller-coaster ride. My spirits rose once I had hosted a few successful Country-Get-Aways in the following few months but it was only a few, not nearly as many as I knew should have been responding to my advertising and marketing and, inevitably, my spirits sank again as bookings dwindled.
Finally, in desperation, I remembered a clinical psychologist the COT members had contacted back in 1992, when we were first formalising the group — Dr Don Burnard. At the time Dr Burnard had written a report regarding his opinion of our individual conditions, noting the breakdown in our psychological defences and referring to the excessive and prolonged pressures we were being forced to endure. In this report Dr Burnard went on to say:
“All of these clients have been subjected to persistent environmental stress as a result of constant pressure in their business and erratic patterns of change in the functioning of their telephones which were essential to the success of their businesses.”
Now it was May 1993 and nothing had changed. I rang Dr Burnard’s office, looking for support. My conversation with his office was interrupted three times by phone faults. Later I received a letter from Dr Burnard’s office, saying:
“I am writing to you to confirm details of telephone conversation difficulties experienced between this office and our residence mid-morning this day, 5 May 1993. At approximately 11.30 am today Mr Alan Smith telephoned this office requesting to speak with Don Burnard. Mr Burnard was not available to take his call. During this time the telephone cut out three times. Each time Mr Smith telephoned back to continue the call.”
Between May and October of 1993 I received many letters from schools, clubs and singles clubs, each writing of the difficulties they had experienced trying to contact the camp by phone. The executive officer of the Camping Association of Victoria, Mr Don MacDowall, wrote on 6 May 1993 to say that 10,000 copies of their ‘Resource Guide’, in which I had advertised, had been direct mailed to schools and given away. Most of the other advertisers with ads similar to mine, he went on to say, had experienced an increase in inquiries and bookings after the distribution of these books and so it was clear to him that the ‘malfunction of your phone system effectively deprived you of similar gains in business.’ He also noted that he had himself received complaints from people who had been unable to phone my camp. They were asking him why I was not answering my phone. All in all, during this period, I received 36 letters from different individuals as well more than 40 other complaints from people who had tried, unsuccessfully, to respond to my advertisements. The Hadden & District Community House wrote in April 1993:
“Problems with contacting you by phone. Several times I have dialled 055 267 267 number and received no response — dead line. I have also experienced similar problems on your 008 number.
Our youth worker, Gladys Crittenden, experienced similar problems while organising our last year’s family camp, over a six month period during 1991/1992.
In August of 1993 Rita Espinoza from the Chilean Social Club wrote:
“I tried to ring you in order to confirm our stay at your camp site. I found it impossible to get through. I tried to ring later but encountered the same signal on the 10th of August around 7 – 8.30 pm. I believe you have a problem with the exchange and strongly advise you contact Telstra
Do you remember the same problem happened in April and May of this year?
I apologise but I have made arrangements with another camp.”
As more and more letters like this arrived in my office I became convinced that Telstra senior executives were hiding the true facts of the problems at the Cape Bridgewater exchange. Surely they must have been aware by now that I was not inventing the problems I was complaining about?
Austel’s General Manager of Consumer Affairs, John MacMahon, was becoming more concerned at the evidence COT members were producing; evidence of continuing complaints like these, as well as evidence of incorrect charging. These two problems — people not being able to get through and calls being charged incorrectly, come together in a note from a Mrs Haddok from Croydon. Mrs Haddok wrote regarding her problems getting through on 22 May 1993 and how she continually reached a recorded voice announcement saying that my phone had been disconnected. She commented that she thought this message was ‘quite strange’. My Telstra 008 account for that day (see below) showed a number of very short calls. Apparently I was being charged for RVA messages!
I also mentioned to John MacMahon my suspicions that:
- the COT members’ phone calls were being intercepted by Telstra and
- some of the short-duration calls I had been billed for, but which I had not answered, were actually incoming calls that were being diverted to an unknown location.
Mr MacMahon did not agree with these suspicions and yet, in an in-confidence, internal Telstra memo dated 25/11/93, on the subject of short duration calls on my phone lines, Telstra stated:
“Mr Smith is obviously well aware that customer premises equipment (CPE) is a significant source/cause of charging and billing disputes, particularly those involving short calls which the customer believes were unsuccessful and should not be charged. Telephone answering machines, facsimiles and call diverters typically are at the centre of these disputes.”
Information on page 72 in the next chapter (13) shows that neither my answering machine or my fax machine could have answered many of these short duration calls. This leaves call diverters as the only ‘culprit’ possible and, since I had not authorised any call diversion on any of my lines, this raises the question: Who then had authorised the diversion of at least some of my incoming calls?
Later in 1993 a Mrs Cullen from Daylesford Community House contacted me to let me know that she had tried unsuccessfully to phone me on 17 August 1993; first at 5.17 pm and again at 5.18, 5.19 and 5.20. Each time she phoned she reached a deadline. After the fourth unsuccessful attempt, Mrs Cullen had reported the fault to Telstra’s Fault Centre in Bendigo on 1100. She spoke to an operator who identified herself as Tina. Tina then rang my 008 number and she couldn’t get through either.
Telstra’s hand-written memo, dated 17/8/93, reports Tina’s attempt to contact me and refers to Mrs Cullen’s complaint to 1100, recording the times that Mrs Cullen had tried to get through to my phone.
Document R11519 is a copy of my itemised 008 account, including 17/8/93. It is quite clear that I was charged for all four of these calls, even though Mrs Cullen never reached me. All this information was duly passed to John MacMahon of Austel.
After Mrs Cullen had reported her experience to the fault centre, Telstra began to take a pro-active approach and arranged for tests on my line to be carried out from a number of different locations around Victoria and New South Wales. Telstra then notified Austel that some 100 test calls would take place on 18/8/98 to my 008 free-call service.
That morning I answered two calls from Telstra commercial, one lasting six minutes and another lasting eleven minutes — these two occurred first thing in the morning as they set up ready for the following test calls throughout the day. Over the rest of that day however, I only remember answering about eight or nine calls in all. Certainly I was stressed by then, possibly I wasn’t thinking entirely clearly, but even so I am sure I would remember if I had answered 100 calls or even twenty or thirty for that matter. Certainly I didn’t answer 100 calls.
Some days later my 008 phone account arrived and, lo and behold, something like 60 short duration calls have been charged to my service! I queried this with Telstra commercial, asking how I could be charged for so many calls which did not connect and which I certainly did not answer. Telstra wrote to John MacMahon of Austel on 8 November 1993, noting that I had queried the accuracy of the data regarding 67 calls made in a 54 minute period. They went on to say that I had acknowledged answering a ‘large number of calls’ but that I also did not believe I had answered all the calls I was charged for. Finally they reported that all the evidence indicates that ‘someone at the premises answered the calls’. Although Austel has asked for the name of the Telstra employee who made these so-called successful calls to my business, and I have also asked for this information, so far Telstra have refused to supply the name.
The phone faults had started a snowball rolling down the mountain. The lack of customers of course meant a lack of income, my financial situation became worse and worse and, with my marriage over as well, my health suffered more and more. Friends began to notice the change in my personality and those few clients who did manage to make contact and book in were also commenting on my apparent ill-health.
Mrs Cullen’s group from the Daylesford Neighbourhood House finally arrived for their holiday in January 1994. Later, two letters arrived from members of this group, complaining that my customer, coin-operated gold phone service was most unsatisfactory. They wrote that the phone was taking money ‘under false pretences’ and not connecting long enough for the caller to properly complete their calls. Both wrote that the line kept ‘going dead’ and they both supplied their names and addresses.
Late in 1994 I was supplied with some documents in response to one of my FOI requests. This batch included two documents which are of particular interest in relation to the Telstra test calls of 18/8/93. These documents numbered K03433 and K03434, showed 44 test calls, numbered from 8 to 63, to the Cape Bridgewater exchange, with some numbers missing. It is interesting to note since I believe I only answered eight or nine of the test calls, that nine of the calls recorded on these two documents had tick or arrow marks beside them.
Since receiving these two papers I have continually asked Telstra what the marked calls represent but I have not received any response to my questions.
Document K03434 includes a note stating:
“Test calls unsuccessful. Did not hear STD pips on any calls to test no. The TCTDI would not work correctly on the CWBEX (Cape Bridgewater Exchange). I gave up tests.”
It seems obvious that this remark refers to the test calls that were to have been made to my phone on that day.
Another FOI document received in this batch, numbered A03254, was a copy of a Telstra e-mail dated September 28, 1993. This e-mail referred, in part to a recognition of the “… duress that the COT members are suffering” and goes on to say:
“… perhaps I am getting too legalistic and defensive but we can’t afford to let anything get away. However, our best option is still to force these cases down a legal structured path.”
Also interesting is FOI document C04094. This also indicates that Telstra’s management team was trying to force the COT members into a court situation even though they were fully aware that their highly paid lawyers would eat us alive. The aim seemed to be to ‘hang us out to dry’ as an example to other’s who might complain about Telstra services in the future.
On 21 April 1993, a document headed “COT cases latest” was forwarded to someone called Don. This document confirms the COT members’ growing belief that Telstra were planning to use our claims and possible court case to stop any further claims against Telstra, ever. The author of this document stated:
“Don, thank you for your swift and eloquent reply. I disagree with raising the issue of the courts. That carries an implied threat not only to COT cases but to all customers that they’ll end up as lawyer fodder. Certainly that can be a message to give face to face with customers and to hold in reserve if the complainants remain vexatious…..”
Clearly, Telstra management intended to decide when claimants were becoming ‘vexatious’ and that this would be the time they would threaten the claimants with legal action. And this decision comes from a corporation which is continually held up to be a benevolent organisation, acting for the good of the Australian public while, behind closed doors, Telstra management intended to turn legitimate claimants into ‘lawyer fodder’ if they persisted with their claims.
This last Telstra document dated April 1993 had a particularly devastating effect on me. Some time during September or October of 1993 I had advised Austel’s General Manager for Consumer Affairs, John MacMahon, that Telstra’s General Manager (Commercial) had instructed me to direct all my future phone complaints through their outside solicitors. These complaints were all to be made in writing, addressed to a Ms Denise McBurnie, Level 43, 101 Collins St, Melbourne (see Telecom Memo dated 15/11/93 – next page).
Much, much later I was told that this strategy was intended to wear me out or force me to hire my own legal practitioner to deal with Telstra’s solicitors. Sometimes I waited up to two weeks for a response from Ms McBurnie and the time and effort involved in documenting all the on-going faults, while still trying to run a failing business, certainly worked in Telstra’s favour. Somehow I struggled to keep focussed on what the COT group were pushing for: a Senate inquiry into Telstra’s unethical treatment of our small group of legitimate claimants.
A letter of support from a worker at D Madden & Co of Warrnambool (Lawyers), dated 10/11/93, helped me feel less alone and confirmed my decision to fight on. Telstra had to respond regarding their treatment of customers complaints: they must be stopped from continuing their bullying tactics. This letter from Madden’s says, in part:
“I am writing in reference to the proposed Senate Committee Investigation into Telstra.
As you are aware, I am employed as a telephonist with a large legal firm in Warrnambool. In the course of my employment, and particularly during the months of July and August this year, numerous service faults have been brought to my attention. These problems include:
- Calls being disconnected during conversation.
- Recorded messages informing Melbourne clients and callers that the number has been disconnected when the correct number was dialled.
- An engaged signal received by callers despite a number of lines being available
- Complaints from callers that the line has rung out when no ringing tone has been received at the number dialled.
Our firm duly contacted Telstra on a number of occasions in an effort to have these fault rectified. However, Telstra technicians were constantly unable to identify the numerous problems and subsequently remedy our complaints.”
The letter goes on to confirm support for the call for a Senate Inquiry into problems within Telstra’s network and to advise that my name and address had been passed to Madden’s by Mr David Hawker, the local Member of Parliament, with regard to a public meeting we were then organising.
Like previous documents relating to phone problems in the area, I passed this on to Telstra’s solicitors, together with more information showing incorrect charging on phone accounts. I then wrote to Ms McBurnie, dated 12/11/93:
“On trying to fax you the information you received this morning I had quite some difficulty in getting all the pages through at a given time. Note the page errors which I have enclosed.”
By this stage Austel was becoming more than a little concerned at Telstra’s approach to our complaints, particularly their continual use of outside solicitors. In fact, during October 1993, while Austel was negotiating with Telstra for a commercial settlement proposal to be put in place for the COT members, Robin Davey, Austel’s chairman, made it clear to Ian Campbell of Telstra’s Commercial division that Austel would not be happy if Telstra’s solicitors were to be used in future COT matters. Mr Davey’s request fell on deaf ears however and, through to 28 January 1994, Telstra continued to insist that I register my complaints through Ms McBurnie.
Later, when Telstra submitted their defence of my arbitration, I learned that Telstra’s solicitors also acted as Telstra’s defence counsel. By this time I was able to provide the arbitrator with clear proof that Telstra had provided incorrect written statements to Austel and to me, regarding incidents that occurred between January and August of 1993.
On 28 January 1994, during my arbitration, I received a letter from Telstra’s solicitors in response to a letter I had written, challenging their client, Telstra, for incorrectly charging me for non-connected short duration calls. Telstra’s solicitors wrote, in response to one part of my letter:
- customers will be charged only for calls which are answered
- unanswered calls are not charged.
In the next paragraph, they refer to the malicious call trace equipment which Telstra placed on my service, without my knowledge, and which caused a lock-up on my line after each successful call was answered. This lock-up occurred after I had hung up the phone and meant that no further call could come in to my phone for the following ninety seconds.
On pages 66 and 67, at the beginning of this chapter, I relate an incident with the Daylesford Community House where Mrs Cullen described how the line was continually dead when she rang my 008 number four times on 17/8/93. Even so, I was charged for these four calls, all in the space of a single 28 second period. Since the malicious call tracing equipment was not removed from my phone line until 19/8/93, how could Mrs Cullen have been connected four times in such a short period of time? It is clear from other FOI documents, and has been supported by Telstra technical consultants, that no call could have connected under these circumstances at any time between 26 May and 19 August 1993, while the call tracing equipment was still connected. So, where were these calls diverted to?
Another incident, described on page 68, raises more, similar questions. How could sixty-seven test calls all be answered in a fifty-four minute period when my 008 account shows that some of these test calls connected within a single thirty-second period? In fact, some calls came through at the rate of as many as three in a single sixty-second period. Again, where were these calls diverted to?
And, finally, who would benefit from accessing my incoming calls?
The following letter from David Hawker MP, Liberal Coalition Government, congratulates me for my “persistence to bring about improvements to Telecom’s country services”. Mr Hawker goes on to say that he regretted “that it was at such a high personal cost.”
In the third paragraph of another letter, this time from the Hon. David Beddall MP, then the Minister for Communications in the Labor Government, Mr Beddall states:
“Let me say that the Government is most concerned at allegations that Telecom has not been maintaining telecommunications service quality at appropriate levels. I accept that in a number of cases, including Mr Smith’s there has been great personal and financial distress. This is of great concern to me and a full investigation of the facts is clearly warranted.”
Negotiations continued as we lobbied for a commercial assessment (refer Glossary) for the members of COT, an assessment that we hoped would look at the financial losses we had all suffered because of the faulty phone systems that we had to put up with. At the same time it seemed that there was a strong possibility that a Senate Inquiry would be set up. Our hopes began to rise again.
To Senators in particular were pushing hard for a Senate Inquiry at this time, the then Shadow Minister for Communications, Senator Richard Alston (who, at the time of writing, is the Minister for Communications) and Senator Ron Boswell. Senate Hansard (refer Glossary) records show that these Senators were assured by Telstra that the four main COT members would have their claims assessed commercially, in a specially designed, non-legalistic settlement proposal, to be called the Fast Track Settlement Proposal (FTSP – refer Glossary).
The decision for this FTSP was reached because all four main members of COT, Maureen Gillen, Ann Garms, Graham Schorer and I had suffered considerable consequential and resultant losses because of our ongoing attempts to bring the matters to the attention of the Government for many years and because of our ongoing attempts and constant work aimed at finding natural justice through Telstra, on top of the losses caused directly by faulty phones.
With the sanction of the then Labor Government, Austel arranged for an international expert to be brought to Australia to have a look at our claims. Bell Canada International Inc (BCI), technical telecommunications specialists from Ottawa, Canada, arrived to run tests on a number of the phones connected to the businesses belonging to various COT members.
These tests were allegedly carried out on my phone service between 4th and 9th November 1993, a period when my phone faults were particularly troublesome, as Austel were well aware.
At the conclusion of these tests BCI produced a report. Unfortunately this report was not acceptable to Austel since the BCI technicians had not tested the actual line between my business and the nearest connection to the local exchange (called the Customer Access Network or CAN). FOI document numbered A00404 to A00407 shows that Telstra’s Ian Campbell, Commercial General Manager for Australia, responded by letter to Robin Davey, Chairman of Austel, on 15 December 1993, saying:
“The conclusion to be reasonably made from these events is that Austel publicly judges the BCI report “Fails to live up to the expectations raised by the terms of reference.
Reasonable inferences might be drawn about deficiencies in the competence, professional standing and integrity of BCI, and the competence and integrity of Telstra and myself in the conduct of the study and representation of the findings.”
In this letter, Mr Campbell goes on to discuss the COT Settlement Proposal (FTSP), saying:
“Considering the above circumstances, Telstra cannot agree to attach a copy of Austel’s letter of 9 December to the BCI report if the latter is made available to the assessor’s nominated for the COT cases.”
A hand-written note at the bottom of the last page of this letter states: “There is a multitude of inaccuracies” . This note is linked by an arrow to a reference to a letter dated 9 December 1993, from Austel’s Cliff Matherson to Telstra’s Ian Campbell. Some time later I received a copy of this 9 December letter, under FOI (numbered K47052 to K47054). Cliff Matherson’s summary, at the end of this letter, stated:
“Having regard to the above, I am of the opinion that the BCI report should not be made available to the Assessor(s) nominated for the COT cases without a copy of this letter being attached to it.”
It is quite clear however, from information I received in response to my FOI request of 18 October 1995, that Telstra did not supply a copy of Cliff Matherson’s letter to my arbitrator. This issue has not been investigated either by the Hon Richard Alston, Minister for Communication or by the TIO, even though they are both fully aware that Telstra used the BCI report to support their defence of my claims and even though the arbitrator acknowledged in his 11 May 1995 award that he had accepted the BCI report into my arbitration.
One week after Ian Campbell wrote this letter to Robin Davey, a Telstra e-mail (FOI document A00354), discusses a new tariff filing that was to be lodged on the 20 December 1993. This new tariff was to include new performance parameters, one of which committed Telstra to a 98% call completion at the individual customer level. This e-mail also referred to experiences with customer disputes and the Bell Canada International Study, commenting that:
“ … this is a cause for concern – Telstra will not meet this 98% figure in many exchanges around Australia, particularly in country areas.”
Apparently Telstra were quite aware that their rural subscribers were not being properly looked after. This was born out in discussions I had with David Hawker and Austel. My complaints were obviously quite valid.
FOI document A09392 raises even more concerns regarding problems with rural exchanges. The writer of this document states:
“Parameters for Cape Bridgewater RCM have been obtained but I don’t believe them — I am attempting to check them — some of the people supplying this information live in “old Telecom”.
Clearly, the parameters for Cape Bridgewater exchange posed some sort of problem for Telstra: could this have been the reason for Telstra not supplying this information in response to my FOI requests?
It is difficult to describe the anguish suffered by the four COT complainants as we continued to do battle with Telstra. This was a corporation entirely government owned at the time, an organisation that Australians were being exhorted to trust with radio and television advertisements bombarding us night and day. How could we have been treated so badly?
At about this same time Telstra commissioned the international audit company of Coopers and Lybrand to report on Telstra’s fault handling procedures, particularly when they were called on to deal with complaints like the issues raised by the COT members. Coopers & Lybrand’s report indicates that they were shocked, to say the least, at the evidence supplied by the COT cases. Telstra’s unethical management of our complaints over the years caused some serious concern to Coopers. What followed Telstra’s first reading of the Coopers report was indicative of Telstra management’s attitude to their subscribers.
On 9/11/93, Doug Campbell, Group Managing Director of Telstra wrote to Ian Campbell (no relation), also of Telstra. In this letter Doug Campbell said:
“I believe that it should be pointed out to Coopers and Lybrand that unless this report is withdrawn and revised, that their future in relation to Telstra may be irreparably damaged.”
These are strong words from the most senior manager below the CEO of the largest telecommunications corporation in the country; a corporation which, at that time, had a monopoly hold on the industry in Australia. This was not an empty threat but it seemed not to have the desired effect because Coopers tabled their report in the Senate and released it into the public domain with, as far as I can tell, no significant changes.
The following points have been taken directly from Coopers report.
“2.20 Some customers were put under a degree of pressure to agree to sign settlements which, in our view, goes beyond normal accepted fair commercial practices.
2.22 Telstra placed an unreasonable burden on difficult network fault cases to provide evidence to substantiate claims where all telephone fault information that could reasonably determine loss should have been held by Telstra.
(2) Fault handling procedures were deficient in terms of escalation criteria and procedures, and there is evidence that in some cases at least, this delayed resolution of these cases.
3.5 We could find no evidence that faults discovered by Telstra staff which could affect customers are communicated to the staff at business service centres who have responsibility for responding to customers’ fault reports.”
With Bell Canada International and Coopers & Lybrand busy producing their individual reports on the COT allegations we four at last felt vindicated; we were not paranoid after all. Telstra really did have a case to answer.
As a result of their own investigation, Austel had come to the conclusion that there were problems in the Telstra Network and that the COT four had, for all the right reasons, been diligent in bringing these issues into the public domain. It looked like four Australian citizens, without any financial backing (and now all close to being totally broke) had won a significant battle. Sometimes, we thought, David wins over Goliath, even in the twentieth century.
Because we were in such a difficult financial position however, because our phone services were still not up to network standard and because I had certainly proved that my phones were not working properly, Austel’s chairman, Robin Davey, pressured Telstra into appointing a commercial loss assessor to arrive at a value for our claims. This was to be the non-legal Fast Track Settlement Process and it was to be set up so that the COT four would have prompt and speedy access to any discovery documents we might need to enable us to complete our claims as quickly as possible.
Telstra agreed to rectify any on-going phone faults before the assessor handed down any decision regarding payouts. After all, what good would a commercial settlement be if the phone faults continued? Again our spirits rose and we began to feel that we were getting somewhere at last. We had discussions with Robin Davey and he verbally assured us that any preparational costs we might incur would be considered as part of our losses, so long as we proved our claims.
Mr Davey would not confirm this assurance in writing because, he explained, it could set a precedent. Telstra’s Corporate Secretary had written to Mr Davey on 18 November 1993 (FOI document number R10799), pointing out that:
“ …. only the COT four are to be commercially assessed by an assessor.
For the sake of convenience I have enclosed an amended copy of the Fast Track Proposal which includes all amendments.
To facilitate its acceptance by all or any of the COT members I have signed it on behalf of the company. Please note that the offer of settlement by this means is open for acceptance until 5 pm Tuesday 23 November 1993 at which time it will lapse and be replaced by the arbitration process we expect to apply to all carriers following Austel recommendations flowing from this and other reviews.”
This caused us all some concern and so we turned for advice to Senator Richard Alston, then still the Shadow Minister for Communications.
We contacted Senator Alston on 22 November and this is confirmed by an internal memo from Senator Alston’s secretary, Fiona, headed “Re: Fast Track Proposal”. In this memo Fiona writes to Senator Alston:
“Garms and Schorer want losses in Clause 2(c) to include its definition, ‘consequential loss arising from faults or problems’ although Davey verbally claims that consequential losses is implied in the word ‘losses’ of which he has given a verbal guarantee he will not commit this guarantee to writing.
COT members are sceptical of Davey’s guarantee given that he will not commit it to writing. On top of this COT alleges that Telstra, in the past, has not honoured its verbal guarantees and so does not completely trust Davey
COT want your advice whether or not COT should demand that clause 2(c) include a broader definition of losses to include consequential losses.
COT was hoping for your advice by tomorrow.”
Amazing as it now seems — we never did get this advice from Senator Alston, even though we had informed his office that various members of COT were now receiving many phone calls from other unhappy Telstra customers around Australia. The faults reported by these callers seemed to indicate that problems within the Telstra network were more wide-spread than Telstra would have the Government know. Some of the callers spoke about their fears of having their phone calls bugged; others were more concerned with over-charging; some talked of suspicions of ‘organised crime’ within the ranks of the Telstra corporation and still others raised issues of the misleading conduct of some of Telstra’s senior managers. All this information was passed to Austel and to Senator Alston.
Graham, Ann, Maureen and I signed the FTSP the following day, 23/11/93, trusting in Robin Davey’s verbal assurances that consequential losses would be included. The agreement was forwarded to Telstra’s corporate secretary. I included a letter with the agreement, clearly putting my expectations of the process:
“In signing and returning this proposal to you I am relying on the assurances of Robin Davey, Chairman of Austel, and John MacMahon, General Manager of Consumer Affairs, Austel, that this is a fair document. I was disappointed that Mr Davey was unwilling to put his assurances in writing, but am nevertheless prepared to accept what he said.
I would not sign this agreement if I thought it prevented me from continuing my efforts to have a satisfactory service for my business. It is a clear understanding that nothing in this agreement prevents me from continuing to seek a satisfactory telephone service.”
The four COT members felt some sense of achievement although Maureen’s health was beginning to fail. The rest of us tried to ring her as often as we could because she was not getting much support from her business partner who often seemed a bit put out when we rang Maureen to ask how she was.
The pressure on all four of us had been immense with TV and newspaper interviews as well as our continuing canvassing of the Senate. The stress was telling by now but I continued to hammer for a change in rural telephone services, at least in Victoria.
A number of other small businesses in rural Australia had begun to write to me regarding their experiences of a poor standard of service from Telstra. Other ordinary subscribers were also writing of problems they had had with their phones, including a number of different billing issues. I contacted Telstra management myself on a number of occasions, putting on record my requests for these matters to be resolved. I believed then, and I still believe, that this was a responsible reaction to the letters I was receiving. Telstra didn’t even offer a ‘thank you’ however, leaving me with only one option: to continue to canvas the media for publicity about our fight.
Other rural subscribers wrote to various TV stations and newspapers supporting my allegations that, with regard to telephone services, rural small-business people, as well as the general public, were not being supplied with a level playing field when compared to our city cousins. One of these letters is particularly interesting. It came from David M Thomson & Associates Pty Ltd, Insurance Loss Adjusters in Ballarat, a rural city in Victoria, and was sent to the producer of “Real Life”, a TV current affairs program then being broadcast on Channel 7. They wrote:
“Re Problems with Telstra”
I have watched with interest the shorts leading up to tonight’s program as I have similar problems to the man at Cape Bridgewater.
Our office is located in Ballarat and due to Telstra structure the majority of our local calls are STD-fee based. (refer Glossary)
On many occasions we have been unable to get through to numbers we have dialled, often receiving the message “This number is not connected” or similar messages which we know to be untrue.
Clients report that they often receive the engaged signal when calling us and a review of the office reveals that at least one of our lines was free at the relevant time.
We have just received our latest Telstra bill which in total is up about 25-30% on the last bill. This is odd because our work load in the billing period was down by about 25% and we have one staff member less than the previous billing period.”
Another letter sent in April 1993 to the Editor of the Herald-Sun Newspaper in Victoria, read in part:
“I am writing in reference to your article in last Friday’s Herald-Sun (2nd April 1993) about phone difficulties experienced by businesses.
I wish to confirm that I have had problems trying to contact Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp over the past 2 years.
I have also experienced problems while trying to organise our family camp for September this year. On numerous occasions I have rung from both this business number 053 424 675 and also my home number and received no response – a dead line.
I also rang around the end of February (1993) and twice was subjected to a piercing noise similar to a fax. I reported this incident to Telstra who also got the same noise when testing.”
Because of a number of reports regarding this ‘piercing noise’, Ray Morris from Telstra’s Country Division arranged to have my service switched to another system. Unfortunately this did not seem to help.
The TV stations reported that their phones had run hot whenever they aired stories about phone faults. People rang from all over the country with complaints about Telstra’s service. This support from the media and from the general public boosted our morale and gave us a bit more energy to keep going as a group. We continued to push to have all these matters addressed in the Senate.
FOI documents show that, at about this same time, a number of Labor Party Senators were becoming more and more concerned at what COT members were uncovering. Other FOI documents show that Telstra were not correctly reporting the true facts as they were at the end of 1993. It is also clear from still more FOI documents that it is highly likely that some newspaper journalists were approached by Telstra and asked to ‘kill’ a story about our problems with phone faults.
FOI document number C04054, entitled “Cot Wrap-Up”, states, in part:
“I think it should be acknowledged these customers are not going to become delighted. We are dealing with the long-term aggrieved and they will not lie down.
Further, I propose that we consider immediately targeting key reporters in the major papers and turn them on to some sexy “Look at superbly built and maintained network” stories.
I advise that Clinton be targeted for some decent Telstra exclusive stories to get his mind out of the gutter.”
We are left to wonder just who ‘Clinton’ was and why his mind was considered to be ‘in the gutter’!
A TV news program was clearly also a target in this attempt to muzzle the media. FOI document A04646 reports:
“Good news re Channel (Australian TV station ID omitted) News. Haven’t checked all outlets but as it didn’t run on the main bulletin last night, we can be pretty certain that the story died the death. I wish I could figure which phrase it was that convinced (reporter’s name omitted) not to proceed. Might have been one of ‘Jim Holmes’ pearls.”
The ‘Jim Holmes’ referred to in this e-mail was then Telstra’s Corporate Secretary; the reporter worked for the TV station referred to at the beginning of the e-mail. The identity of the TV station and reporter, clearly shown in the original e-mail, have deliberately been omitted from this book.
Again we can only wonder what it was that could convince a respected journalist to drop a story. Furthermore, if Telstra had met with the members of COT at the very beginning, listened to our complaints and then done something about them, there may never have been a need to interfere with media stories because there never would have been a Casualties of Telstra group in the first place. After all, we were only asking that Telstra rectify our phones so we could each get on with the running of our businesses in the same way that other small businesses operate.
The following document is another example of censored FOI material. This Telstra memo has some names blacked out but other documents show that Telstra’s area general manager is clearly referred to as one of the Telstra people appointed to ‘deal with the media/politicians’ regarding COT issues. Previously, on page 58, I have recounted one of the stories related to this same area general manager. As I explained then, it seems quite clear that this manager had deliberately misinformed me during a settlement process in 1992/93. Now we discover that she was to be one of only two people who were appointed to speak to the media about the COTs. Would she have misinformed the media the way she misinformed me, I wonder? And, just as worrying, why was the author of this memo so worried about ‘tripping up’?
On the 17th January 1994, Warrick Smith, then the TIO, distributed a media release. An ‘assessor’, Dr Gordon Hughes, had been commissioned to process the four COT Fast Track Settlement Proposals. What the TIO did not say was that Telstra was not abiding by the original FTSP agreement: they were not supplying us with the discovery documents (refer Glossary) we were requesting under FOI.
By this stage we had lost any chance we might have had for a Senate Inquiry into what the COT members believed was the unethical way Telstra was continuing to treat us. By late January 1994, it appeared that not only was Telstra treating us with sheer contempt but they were doing this in full view of the Senate. The COT members were beginning to believe that no single person, and no organisation, anywhere in Australia, had the courage to instigate a Judicial Inquiry into the way Telstra continued to thumb their noses at the Government.
I remember feeling lost and confused, wondering who I could turn to for help; just wanting to find a way to trust someone, just one more time. Austel’s chairman, Robin Davey, was expressing anger about the delays we were suffering as we tried to gather the necessary discovery documents. By February of 1994, Senator Ron Boswell was also asking questions of Telstra in the Senate. Still the members of COT struggled to run their failing businesses and, at the same time, attempted to do battle with the colossus of Telstra and their legal advisors.
Imagine having to write to Telstra’s solicitors, to lodge my phone complaints! Was this Telstra’s way of breaking my morale? Imagine having to report a telephone fault, in writing, to a solicitor!
We learnt from the TIO that the commercial ‘assessor’, Dr Hughes, had drawn up a set of rules within which to work on our cases. Then, to add insult to injury yet again, we learned that Telstra had badgered Dr Hughes into converting the commercial assessment into an ‘arbitration’ procedure (refer Glossary). COT members registered our disagreement with this through the TIO who had been appointed as an independent administrator of the Fast Track Settlement Process. We made it very clear to Warrick Smith that the four of us were already involved in a signed and agreed commercial process and we saw no clear reason for changing that situation. We believed an arbitration process would certainly never be ‘fast-tracked’. It was bound to become legalistic and drawn out and we knew none of us had the finances to go up against Telstra’s high-powered legal team in such a process. We believed the whole idea of an arbitration had been raised simply to suit Telstra’s agenda as the following two letters from the Commonwealth Ombudsman suggests.
This letter, dated 20 January 1994, from Ms Philippa Smith, Commonwealth Ombudsman to Telstra’s corporate secretary Jim Holmes, notes:
“I received complaints from three of the ‘COT Cases,’ Mr Graham Schorer, Mr Alan Smith and Ms Ann Garms, concerning TELECOM’s handling of their applications under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act) of 24 November 1993 and 21 December 1993 respectively. …
“All three assert that they require the information to support their submissions to the imminent review in accordance with the Fast Track Settlement Proposal (FTSP) agreed between TELECOM and AUSTEL, and endorsed by the then relevant Minister.” (Home Page – Part One File No/2-A to 2-E)
On 25 March 1994, Ms Philippa Smith wrote to Telstra’s CEO Frank Blount, stating:
“It was unreasonable for Telecom to require the participants to make further assurances while Telecom was considering the Agreement and thereby denying the participants the opportunity to consider the rules that Telecom wished to have included in the Agreement.” (Home Page – Part One File No/2-B)
Again, on 6 May 1994, Ms Philippa Smith wrote to Telstra’s CEO, Frank Blount, stating:
“I should be grateful if you would now respond to the outstanding matters raised in my letter of 25 March 1994 ie
- Comment on my views that:
it was unreasonable for Telecom to impose a condition for release of certain documents that the participants make further assurances that they will participate in the FTSP; and
it was unreasonable for Telecom to require the participants to make the assurances while Telecom was considering the agreement related to the FTSP (the Agreement) and thereby denying the participants the opportunity to consider the rules that Telecom wished to have included in the Agreement.”
Somewhere around the 6th to the 8th of February that same year, Graham Schorer had a telephone conversation with Warrick Smith. Graham wanted to discuss the reasons the COT four were rejecting the arbitration process. Our reasons were immediately dismissed. Warrick Smith used words to the effect that his prime role was as Telecommunications Ombudsman and that he had been spending much too much time focussing on his secondary role as administrator of our FTSP. He was concerned that his office had already incurred considerable expense because of this administrator role and he made it clear to Graham that Telstra had refused to reimburse those expenses. He also indicated that his office had no intention of continuing to incur expenses on our behalf. Further, he told Graham that if the COT four did not abandon their commercial agreement with Telstra then Telstra would pull out all stops with the aim of forcing us into a position where we would have to take Telstra to court to resolve our commercial losses. Telstra, the new arbitrator and the TIO were all aware that none of us had the financial resources to enter into a court case.
As if all this wasn’t shattering enough, the TIO went on to say that, if we did decide to take legal action in an attempt to compel Telstra to honour their original commercial assessment agreement then he (the TIO) would resign as administrator to the procedure. This action would have forced the conclusion to the FTSP and left us with no other alternative but to each take conventional legal action to resolve our claims.
Simply put, it seemed that the TIO had sold us out. The new assessor also seemed to be selling us out before he even got properly started. We asked to see Telstra’s preferred rules of arbitration, which had already been supplied to the TIO’s office but the TIO refused our request. We had been reassured that these rules had been drawn up independently of Telstra, by Dr Hughes and Minter Ellison, the legal counsel to the TIO’s office. We were also told that a Mr Sheldon, one of the partners in Minter Ellison, had consulted with Dr Hughes over these rules.
Whenever we asked to see a copy of these rules we were told that we should trust Dr Hughes. And so we did. In retrospect we were fools to accept such a compromise but, after struggling through the nightmare of the years leading up to this point, we were all exhausted, stressed and clutching at straws. Singly and as a group. we were vulnerable to the trickery of Telstra’s corporate power.
Even so we continued to implore the TIO to reconsider and let us continue with the original FTSP agreement. On 16 April 1994 we faxed him once again, stressing our request. Again this fell on deaf ears. By the following Thursday, 21 April 1994, we had given up and abandoned the FTSP without seeing Telstra’s preferred rules of arbitration. Later we discovered that the copy of these rules which had been supplied to the TIO’s office was actually headed “Telstra’s preferred rules of arbitration.” We simply wanted to make sure that the rules we were signing for were different to Telstra’s ‘preferred rules’: why should Telstra be allowed to dictate to us? Our concerns were of no interest to the TIO however and so, like lambs to the slaughter, we signed on the dotted line on 21 April 1994.
When I arrived back at Cape Bridgewater after signing for the new arbitration procedure I found that, while I had been away, my staff had logged two more faults on my fax line, at 2 pm and again at 2.15 pm. Nothing, it seemed, had changed.
Not only was I still suffering from all these phone faults but, along with the other members of COT, I still couldn’t access the FOI documents I needed to support my claims against Telstra because Telstra would not abide by the FOI Act. Questions about this lack of supply of FOI documents were raised in the Senate on a number of occasions over the following years, by various Senators. The persistence of these Senators paid off for some members of COT but, unfortunately, I was not so lucky. The persistence of the Senators somehow failed to force Telstra to supply the documents I needed.
On 26 April my son attempted to phone me from his mother’s (where he was living at the time) about his Austudy payments. According to my diary records he first tried at 12.56 but only reached an engaged signal. Document K37932 is Telstra’s fault report for that day.
This makes it quite clear that Telstra acknowledged that there were other call attempts on that day, all from 03 568 xxxx, which is my ex-wife’s phone, to my phone number, 055 267 267, which translated to my 1800 freecall number.
FOI document A19115 is a copy of my wife’s telephone account.
FOI document A19113 is a copy of my 1800 phone account.
When these two documents are compared it is easy to see that, again, Telstra charged me for calls which I did not receive and, furthermore, they charged my ex-wife for two of the calls which did not get through because my phone was registering as engaged. This is confirmed when these two documents are compared to Telstra’s own CCAS data. These documents are taken from many, many documents which I have accumulated over the years and which all prove conclusively that Telstra people were aware of the many problems my phone line suffered, over a number of years. For instance, in August 1993 I complained to Telstra that customers and friends alike were commenting on the peculiar behaviour of my direct out-going line, 055 267 230. This was also a fax line. People often had remarked that, after I had hung up they could still hear me moving around the office. Because of all the other problems I was dealing with at the time I didn’t pay much attention to this small fault until 26 April 1994, the same day that my son had tried to reach me by phone.
This day I phoned Cliff Matherson, one of Austel’s senior engineers, to talk about this ‘hang up’ fault. Mr Matherson suggested that he and I carry out a series of tests on my 267 230 line. His plan was that I would hang up and count out loud, say from one to ten, while he listened at his end. This first test proved that he could hear me right through to the number ten and so he suggested we try it again, but count even further this time. Still the same situation: he could hear me right through the range as I counted. Mr Matherson then suggested that I take the phone off that line and switch it with the phone which was connected to my 267 267 line (they were both exactly the same Telstra phones, model T200). I did this and then we repeated the ‘counting’ test, with exactly the same results. According to Mr Matherson (and it was also apparent to me) this proved that the fault was not in the phone itself, but somewhere in the Telstra network. Mr Matherson’s next suggestion was that I ring Telstra, which I duly did.
This time I spoke to Peter Gamble. I explained carefully what was happening, adding that I had experimented and found that I could count for quite a long time, up to 15 or more, and the person at the other end could still hear quite clearly. I didn’t mention that I had tested two different phones because I was well aware that Telstra had a strong inclination to blame the customer’s equipment first. I was interested to see what they would come up with this time.
So, again, I performed the same tests for Mr Gamble who advised that he would send a technician to collect the phone the very next day. Documents K00940 and K00941 (on the next two pages) show that Mr Gamble was fully aware before the phone was even tested, that heat in the Cape Bridgewater exchange was causing the fault.
The documents in the Cape Bridgewater Evidence File should be read in sequence, before continuing, as both prove that Telstra were aware that phone faults in the exchange were still apparent, even while I was preparing my claim for arbitration. It should also be noted that I asked both the arbitrator and the TIO how I could access discovery documents to support the CONTINUING phone faults, when Telstra was still actually testing for these faults, even on that very day.
Communication experts have since acknowledged that these phone faults continued even after Telstra had submitted their defence of my claim. And what about the phone faults which continued after Telstra had defended their network? They have still not been addressed by the TIO, the arbitrator or Telstra.
When my Telstra account is compared with Telstra’s own data for this period it can be seen that these 15-second call hang-ups and incorrect charging were occurring from at least August 1993 right up until this phone was taken away on 27th April 1994. The phone itself was from the ‘Exicom’ series, manufactured in April 1993; the same as the phones referred to in FOI document D01026. This phone later proved to be a major player in one of the many sub-plots of this Telstra saga; it was used as part of Telstra’s defence of my claims and it was used mainly in an effort to damage my credibility. But that story comes much later.
Meanwhile, on 27th April, when Telstra phoned, at around 9 am, to arrange pick-up of the faulty phone, I had just arrived back in my office after spending the previous 12 hours on our local CFA (Country Fire Authority) fire truck fighting a large bush fire (as our local CFA records will show). I explained to the Telstra caller that I had been out from 7pm the night before and had only just arrived back, and I asked if the pick-up could be arranged for some time after 1 pm so I could get some sleep. Later, in an FOI document, I found that the most important part of this conversation had been omitted from Telstra’s records: they simply stated that ‘Mr Smith was tired, and wanted to go to bed’ and went on to say that I had asked that they not disturb me until after lunch. The omission of any reference to why I was tired is just another example of how some Telstra personnel twist words to suit their own perspective.
By now I was trying to assess my situation and collate my own claim to submit to arbitration, using much of Austel’s ‘COT report’ which had just been released (in April of 1994). Even this report had needed to be revised by Robin Davey because Telstra threatened to enforce an injunction thereby tying the report up for years in a legalistic manoeuvre. Mr Davey had agreed to the amendments required by Telstra just so that the COT four could at least have access to some of the information in the report.
Austel had found a number of my claims to be proven however they were basing their conclusions on information supplied only by Telstra and it later turned out that Telstra had not given Austel the true facts regarding the age of the first exchange at Cape Bridgewater. I had hired as technical advisor, George Close, a telecommunications expert who was based in Queensland and he based his findings on Austel’s report. This meant, of course, that he also based his findings on incorrect information. According to Austel’s report, the first exchange in Cape Bridgewater was called an ARK exchange. What transpired later was that it was, in fact, an RAX exchange. The RAX was designed in the late 1940s or early 1950s, specifically for low-call-rate areas. The ARK was newer technology and was designed some 20 years later.
The first part of my claim covered the first three and a half years after I took over the camp at Cape Bridgewater (the whole claim covered a period of six and a half years in all). I later discovered that this ancient exchange had been in operation for years but George Close and I both believed, as did Austel, according to their report, that the newer ARK was in place through those years. So George assessed my situation, unknowingly working from a false base. This incorrect information downplayed the true fault loss suffered by my business. Was this incorrect information, given to Austel by Telstra, just another deceptive move aimed at hiding the true extent of my continuing phone faults?
This was beginning to look like a repeat of the Tobacco companies and their deceptive conduct over the last 20 years, hiding their true knowledge about the addictive effects of nicotine and then hiding their knowledge about the smoker’s health risks as well. Telstra was (and still is) no different really. They were fully aware that a number of their exchanges around Australia were outdated and were, therefore. causing enormous difficulties for their subscribers, small-business people and the general public alike. Still, they hid these facts. Still, it appeared that they did nothing to improve the system. For ten years Telstra have continued to charge me for calls which never connected, for RVA calls and for short duration (and therefore useless) calls. Why hasn’t the TIO’s office investigated my irrefutable evidence? After all, this evidence is supported by Telstra’s own data.
Some nine months earlier, in August of 1993, having been to Melbourne for a COT meeting, I arrived back home to be confronted by a Sheriff from the Justice Department. He had a warrant requiring payment or seizure of goods in lieu of payment. I asked if he would wait fifteen minutes while I tried to talk to the people I owed money to but he would not. A fight ensued and I threw him out of my office. Later I was charged, in the Magistrate’s Court, with assault: I appealed the court action, defended the charge successfully and saved the day (there was no conviction). The newspaper article, numbered as FOI document K01407, tells the story.
It would appear that Telstra’s FOI Unit was also interested in this situation since this copy of the newspaper article came from Telstra’s records. What this had to do with my phone problems is anyone’s guess although I have since learned that Telstra were accumulating a lot of personal information about me in a file containing details of who rang me, when they rang and from where as well as when my staff left my business. Apparently, they were not only interested in my complaints about phone faults.
And so I battled on. A law student to assist would have been a God send. The mountain of documents continued to grow and threatened to engulf me entirely while Telstra’s multiplying legal team stood by, waiting to pounce on the slightest crack they could manufacture in the claim documents I submitted. The knowledge that every document I sent would be poured over by highly qualified legal experts didn’t exactly help to keep my confidence up. Finally, I sought out the TIO and his legal counsel, explaining my lack of confidence and re-iterating Robin Davey’s reason for first asking for a non-legalistic hearing for us. Mr Davey had always believed this would be the best and fairest way for us to present our cases.
The TIO could only console me by telling me to ‘do the best you can’. The TIO’s legal counsel re-assured me that the new process was fair and advised me to ‘give it a go’. And so I had no choice but to seek help from professionals in the field. I began by approaching a local firm of loss assessors in nearby Mt Gambier, just over the border in South Australia, about 110 kms away. This firm was headed by Mr Phil McDonough, an agent for NZ Insurance. When I first phoned I spoke to Mr McDonough and explained who I was, gave my location and what I hoped to have help with. There was quite a long pause before Mr McDonough asked me if I had suffered some storm damage at the camp about four or five years earlier. I remembered that I had. It turned out that Mr McDonough had acted as loss assessor back then and remembered that he had had a lot of trouble contacting me by phone and had finally resorted to writing to me to let me know they were coming to assess the storm damage.
After discussing my current position in more detail Mr McDonough decided that my problems were outside their area of expertise. Imagine, Telstra and the TIO expected me to prepare my claim alone and a professional loss assessor believed the case was too complicated for him to take on. Here I was, a marine cook, a chef, and the TIO and his legal counsel could only tell me to ‘do the best you can’!
I continued my search for assistance in the Melbourne metropolitan area, approaching four different companies specialising in communications. Three didn’t even respond in writing and the fourth simply wished me luck in finding someone who would be brave enough to go up against Telstra.
It was at this stage that I approached George Close in Queensland. George was already working on Ann Garms’s case and she had suggested I talk to him. It was just a shame that he was so far away from me geographically as this, of course, complicated everything just that bit more. When Telstra discovered that we had secured George’s help, they approached him, offering work. It would seem that they were still trying to close off all avenues for the COTs. George, however, at 70 years of age, was having none of that. He made it quite clear that, if he took up Telstra’s offer, it would create a definite conflict of interest and severely disadvantage the COT members and so, bless his beautiful heart, he declined their offer. It would seem that at least one Australian was prepared to put himself on the line and face up to Telstra’s bottomless financial public purse.
Finally, after more searching, I located a Loss Assessor company, Freemans, also 1,200 kilometres away on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and then I spoke with an ex-National Crime Authority detective, Garry Ellicott. Garry agreed to help me on the understanding that he would only be paid if and when I won my claim. The only payment he expected along the way would be for re-imbursement of out-of-pocket travel expenses so he could come to Cape Bridgewater.
Once all these professionals were in place I then had to work out how to raise the finances to bring Garry Ellicott to the camp. With my business still in tatters, I was caught like a butterfly in a web: the consequential losses resulting from the poor phone service meant that my finances were getting worse and worse but I badly needed money to keep up the fight. The only alternative was bankruptcy and I was determined not to lose the camp because of Telstra’s skulduggery.
Government ministers, Coopers & Lybrand and Austel were all agreeing that the COT cases were right and Telstra was wrong. Even Telstra themselves, in a letter to the Minister for Communication, admitted that my assumptions were correct, but we still had our backs against the wall. We were still not getting any financial assistance from anywhere and were left to scratch around to raise the funds to organise our claims, claims that most loss assessors would not even attempt to touch.
I raised $280.00 by selling two of the camp’s canoes and, with nothing saleable left, borrowed another $1,000 from Peter Turner of the Australian Singles Club who took an advance on his credit card because all his money was tied up in New Zealand.
At about this time 900 to 1,000 discovery documents arrived from Telstra, in response to one of my FOI requests. “Wonderful,” I thought, “now we are getting somewhere.” But, of course, I was wrong. Telstra may well have supplied the documents but, according to the FOI act, they were required to supply them in some sort of order, preferably chronological and definitely with some sort of numbering system in place. Not only were all these documents supplied without any numbering system they were also not even supplied in chronological order of any sort. Further, there was no explanation of what the documents actually represented. Many were unreadable with so much information blanked out that they were totally worthless. This would have driven even the most hardened lawyer to the wall with frustration. Below is one of many examples of these heavily censored documents from my first FOI release. How could I support my claim with material like this?
If I had known, back on 21st April 1994, when I was forced, under duress, to abandon the commercial assessment process and sign for arbitration, that Garry Ellicott’s fees would mount to over $50,000; that George Close’s fees would come to more than $25,000; that Derek Ryan, my forensic accountant; would amass fees of more than $50,000; that typing would cost me more than $25,000 and that I would also have to bear another $40,000 in miscellaneous fees, I would never have agreed to the arbitration, even if Warrick Smith had held two guns to my head. But I couldn’t know this in advance and I did not have any legal representation on the day so there was no-one who could warn me of what was to come. As a lay person I did not know that, if I later wanted to challenge the decision made by the arbitrator, I would have to take the matter to the Supreme Court, even if I could prove that the arbitrator had acted in concert with another. What chance did I have?
Even the TIO’s suggestion that we would have nowhere to go if we didn’t sign for arbitration, except for massively expensive court cases, would not have made Ann, Graham and me agree to sign even if we had known what was to come. Not only have we had to bear enormous financial burdens, but we have also all had to suffer through failing health. I know blackmail is a strong word to use when talking about an ombudsman but that is certainly how it felt to the members of COT. The TIO’s comments sounded quite clearly like a ‘take it or leave it’ threat because his office is funded by the telecommunications companies, Telstra included, unlike the office of the other ombudsman, which is funded by the Government.
The following two paragraphs are taken from FOI document R00037 (a fax from Telstra’s Corporate Secretary). Clearly, the members of COT were not intended to have to bear the burden of the costs of assessment.
Anyway, I managed to raise enough cash to bring Garry Ellicott to the camp for a couple of days to observe what was going on with the phones. During his stay, he noted short duration calls, dead lines and problems trying to send faxes to George Close. In fact it was Garry who commented that he believed I was being watched. His background as a bodyguard for the United States President, Jimmy Carter, during his visit to Australia, gave him some experience in this area. He was sure I was being kept under some sort of surveillance and FOI documents (see document K01006) show that Telstra was aware of my movements, and the movements of my staff.
Document K01006 is dated Thursday 7 April 1994, at 2.05 pm and signed by Bruce Pendlebury of Telstra. This document raises two issues. Firstly this date falls during the time I was involved in the Austel designed commercial agreement with Telstra and secret observations would surely seem to be inappropriate, at the very least. Secondly, this document refers to a time when I would be away from my business. Mr Pendlebury states (note that NRR in this memo refers to ‘Not Receiving Rings’):
“David, Mr Alan Smith is absent from his premises from 5/8/94 – 8/8/94. On other occasions when he has been absent there have been documented complaints received (usually months later) involving NRR etc. I called the premises at approx 4:55 pm 6/4/94. The answer time was 41 secs.
I intend on this occasion to document his absence and file all data I can collect for the period. That way we should be prepared for anything that follows.”
Now, it is clear that Mr Pendlebury knew, in April of 1994, that I planned to be away later that year, in August. In other words, he knew of my movements, 4 months in advance. Telstra have never been able to explain how he came by this information. Further, Mr Pendlebury has also stated that he knew that I had spoken to the former Australian Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Fraser, on the phone. He also knew when that conversation took place. Mr Pendlebury insists that I told him about this conversation but this is not true. I told him no such thing. Again, Telstra have never been able to find a convincing explanation for Mr Pendlebury having this information. Obviously, Telstra was still listening to my private calls, even though I was then involved in litigation with them and their lawyers. The following FOI document, not numbered, clearly shows that the writer knew where this caller usually rang from even though, on this occasion, the caller was phoning from a different number, “somewhere near Adelaide”. How could the writer have this information, if someone hadn’t listened to this call to find out who the caller was?
Senator Richard Alston, Minister for Communications; the TIO and the Federal Police were all supplied with this document, along with a number of other documents indicating that my private calls were being ‘bugged’. I have had no response from any of them, and I have now been waiting for four years.
Listening to private calls is appalling enough but the following information is even more damning. Page A133 of the official Senate Hansard records dated 25/2/94 states that Senator Alston, then Shadow Minister for Communications, questioned Mr Robin Davey, Austel’s Chairman. Senator Alston asked:
“Mr Davey, Why did not Austel immediately refer COT’s allegations of voice recording to the Federal Police instead of waiting for the Minister to refer the matter to the Attorney General and then on to the Federal Police?”
FOI document K00701, dated 14 January 1994, headed “Voice Monitoring of Priority, Investigation Services” states:
“Described below are the details of any voice monitoring which has been carried out on the 3 Priority Case Investigation services in Country Vic/Tas”.
This document goes on to say that calls to the Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp had been voice monitored at the Portland exchange where an alarm bell rang when calls came through for the Camp. Further proof that Telstra personnel listened to my calls over a long period.
In January 1999 (five years after my arbitration was concluded) the arbitration claimants provided the Australian Government with a report confirming that confidential, arbitration-related documents were secretly and illegally screened before they arrived at their intended destination: in my case, even though the arbitrator’s secretary advised the arbitration process that six of my faxed claim documents never reached the arbitrators office, I was never afforded the opportunity to resubmit this material for assessment. My fax account shows I dialled the correct fax number on all six occasions.
In fact, one of the two technical consultants/signatories attesting to the validity of their findings in that report on 17 December 2014 wrote to me noting:
“…I still stand by my statutory declaration that I was able to identify that the incoming faxes provided to me for review had at some stage been received by a secondary fax machine and then retransmitted, this was done by identifying the dual time stamps on the faxes proved” (see Front Page Part One File No/14)
NONE of the COT Cases were ever on a terrorist list in 1994 (or since, for that matter) and nor were any of us ever listed as suspects in relation to any crimes committed against any Australian citizens. This means that we must therefore ask: why were these innocent claimants’ in-confidence arbitration and Telstra-related documents hacked by Telstra while Telstra was defending the various COT cases arbitrations? In my own case, 42 separate sets of correspondence faxed to the Arbitrator’s office (some with attachments) are not listed on the Arbitration Schedules of Material received by the Arbitration process. It is clear from Front Page Part One File No/1 that even though the Arbitrator’s secretary advised Tony Watson (part of Telstra’s Arbitration Defence Unit) that on 23 May 1994, six of my claim documents were never received at the Arbitrator’s fax machine. It is clear from my Telstra account I was charged for those six faxes as having left my office, yet no one from the Arbitrator’s office nor the TIO’s office when this matter was exposed, allowed me to amend my claim so that these proven “non received” claim documents were valued by the Arbitrator in support of my claim.
FOI document A10148, a copy of a letter dated 10/2/94 from Austel’s General Manager of Customer Affairs to Telstra’s Group General Manager in charge of the COT arbitrations, confirms the visit by the Federal Police. In this letter Austel notes:
“Yesterday we were called upon by officers of the Australian Federal Police in relation to the taping of the telephone services of COT cases.”
Another interesting letter which I received under FOI was dated 28 January 1994 (within the COT litigation period) and was from none other than the Chairman of the Board of Telstra, Mr David Hoare. Mr Hoare wrote to the Hon. Michael Lee, then the Minister for Communications, acknowledging that the Board were aware that Telstra technicians had listened to customers’ conversations. Mr Hoare wrote:
“Thank you for your letter of 20 January 1994 requesting a report on allegations regarding voice monitoring.
I have attached for your consideration a full report on Telstra’s inquiries into this matter and the actions proposed to prevent its recurrence.”
Other documents received by various members of COT also confirm this ‘voice monitoring’. These documents include one titled “Corporate & Govt. Major Customer Group 19/8/92”. This document is included on the first page of Chapter 9. It includes information showing that the document relates to the Tivoli Theatre Restaurant (which was owned and run by Ann Garms in Brisbane) and, in relation to ‘voice monitoring’, it is interesting to again note the information at point 19:
“Line 2 NDT NRR SUSPECT SABOTAGE ?????”
On the last few lines of this same document are the comments (at points 1, 2 and 3):
“10/03/92 ……. Tests looped …. SK … maybe the bug has slipped off. Looks like a job for super sleuth Sherlock Kelly????????”
I found myself wondering; was this an internal memo from Australia’s largest telecommunications company I was reading, or was it a page torn from a spy novel?
FOI document B00474 is a copy of a Telstra minute which also refers to Ann Garms and the Tivoli Restaurant. In relation to the Federal Police’s investigation it is interesting to note the following points and questions raised in this document:
“John Brereton (Fed Police) initially stated a particular person was paying money for 3 people + others in Telstra to manipulate some services……… Why was Federal police stopped from investigating the Tivoli Case ……….. Why did John Brereton start to deny everything and then volunteer for service in New Guinea for 2 years.
Why was AA of Protective Services investigated ? and investigation stopped short of his bank account.
Why did AA of Protective Services initially accede to my request to borrow a Bug scanning device for the 12th Night and Tivoli, then suddenly change heart …………”
continued in Chapter 19 – Part Two: